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Top 5 Ways to Hire the Wrong Criminal Defense/OVI/DUI Attorney

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Thinkstock photo

The age of the new millennia has changed everything. Now if we want to find a restaurant, we check online. If we want a tailor, we check the internet. If we want a contractor, we google it. And it’s the same with professional services. More and more people are searching online for an attorney to represent them.

It used to be we would ask around. We would talk to our friends, neighbors, and colleagues and get a good referral. We did the legwork ourselves. But the fast-paced internet age has changed all that. We pull out our computer, phone, or tablet, and search it up.

This is not to say that a quality criminal defense lawyer can’t be found on the internet. Quite the opposite. But there are still things to consider and mistakes to avoid.

Here are five ways to hire the wrong lawyer:

Go Cheap.

Everyone wants a bargain these days. But when you’re facing criminal charges — perhaps charges that can put you in jail or prison — it’s probably not the best time to bargain hunt.

Certainly not everyone can afford the most expensive attorney. That’s not the point here. But too many people are driven by cost, so much so that they find a cheaper lawyer than they can afford.

It’s easy to think lawyers are all the same — they all have the same degree. But that’s simply not the case. Higher priced attorneys charge more based on experience, reputation, and a whole host of other reasons.

The idea is to get the best attorney you can afford under the circumstances. And if you are dealing with a complex case involving a false allegation of child abuse or some other complicated matter, it’s not the time to go cheap and hire someone who has no real experience in that area.

Forego an Initial Consultation.

If at all possible, have a face-to-face meeting with the attorney you want to hire. That’s really the best way to get to know someone. Even if the attorney is great, has a stellar reputation, and comes highly recommended, it might not be a good fit.

The attorney-client relationship can be very personal. You will share things with your attorney. You will tackle complicated problems with your attorney. You will become very close. If the fit isn’t right, the relationship won’t work. And that’s OK. Not everyone gets along with everyone.

The best way to figure this out is to meet, talk, and go over everything about the case. See the attorney’s office. Meet the staff. Get an understanding as to how the billing works, how the correspondence works, and how the communication works. Make sure you are comfortable with the people and the surroundings.

Sometimes it’s not possible to have a face-to-face meeting before hiring a lawyer. Maybe you live out of town or maybe the case has an immediate court appearance and there’s not enough time. In these situations, at least spend time discussing the case on the phone. And, as soon as possible, schedule a meeting. Even if you’ve already paid the attorney. And even if he or she has begun work, it’s probably not too late to change your mind and ask for a refund.

At Yavitch & Palmer, we try to always schedule a face-to-face meeting in advance. Sometimes that means meeting the morning of the first court appearance. And even if the client chooses to go a different direction, we will at least assist in getting the immediate problems stabilized. That way clients don’t feel pressured to hire us.

If it’s not right for the client, it’s not right for us either. Again, trust matters in this relationship.

Hire a Lawyer Who Doesn’t Utilize a Trust Account.

In Ohio (and other states), attorneys must establish and keep an IOLTA (Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Account) bank account. The purpose of this account is to hold client funds.

In a civil case, lawyers typically use this account to hold settlement money before it is dispersed, along with unearned legal fees. In a criminal case, we use this account in a similar way. Even if we are charging a flat fee for our services, we routinely place client fees in our trust account until earned, often until the case is closed.

We never commingle unearned money with our general checking account. We want clients to know their money is safely stored in a trust account until earned. That way, if a refund is warranted, the funds are readily available and can be refunded immediately.

But often criminal lawyers simply take a flat fee and deposit that into their checking accounts. While this may be ethically permissible (depending on the situation), at Yavitch & Palmer we feel it’s important for our clients to know we’re not spending their money before we earn it.

In short, ask any prospective attorney about their practices with the money. It’s an important part of the process. If you’re not comfortable with the answer, it might be wise to keep asking questions or go elsewhere.

Ignoring your Gut.

We all know the feeling. We’re talking to a contractor, salesperson, or someone else in a commercial setting, and our gut tells us it’s the wrong person. When we don’t listen to that little voice in our heads, we often find out later that we should have.

This is no less true with lawyers. Countless times I have met with clients who have fired their lawyers. When asked, most would admit they “knew it was the wrong choice but hired the lawyer anyway.”

The problem is this: Particularly in a criminal case, folks are typically hiring lawyers while “under the gun.” There is a short fuse of some sort — the police want a meeting, there is a court appearance the next day, or there is some other immediate need.

People tend to ignore their gut feelings when under pressure. Or, maybe they confuse the funny feeling with fear and/or anxiety. Don’t fall into that trap. There is almost always time to get another opinion if you are not comfortable. And if your gut is telling you something is wrong, something is probably wrong. Listen to yourself. You know yourself better than anyone else.

Hire an Attorney Outside their Experience Level.

For almost 20 years, we have been handling criminal cases of all sorts — from complex white-collar matters down to basic traffic defense. In that time, it’s become clear there is no substitute for experience. Sometimes attorneys don’t even know what they are not doing.

So, if you are consulting attorneys about a complicated child sex abuse case, make sure the attorney has some experience in that area. You don’t want to be the guinea pig for an attorney. And if you really like the attorney, but he or she lacks experience, it’s OK to offer to bring on someone more experienced. We often work with other lawyers on complicated cases. We believe in a team approach. And in complex matters, the more the better.  

It’s tough to find a criminal lawyer, especially if you’ve never needed one. Be careful and choose the right person. Be comfortable with your choice. And avoid these mistakes. It may make all the difference.

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