Robin Shellow Attorney | Milwaukee Criminal Defense Attorney | Wisconsin Defense Attorney | The Shellow Group
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Selecting the
Right Lawyer

Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Defense Attorney

Finding the right lawyer is like finding the right surgeon, not like selecting the right architect. When you select an architect, you can examine the buildings he has designed and whether his style is the style you want. You can review his blueprints and site selection. You can talk to the contractors he has supervised. When you retain a lawyer none of such objective sources are available.

For many, the knock on the door from an investigator, or the summons handed to you by a United States Marshall, doesn’t immediately hit you as hard as it should. Whether it is a misunderstood allegation of mail fraud, an accusation that child pornography has been found on your computer, or the abject horror of realizing your step-daughter, patient or client has accused you of sexual misconduct, you have been provisionally diagnosed with “legal cancer.” You pick a lawyer the way you pick an oncologist. You need to hire the most talented person you can afford to try to save your life as soon as possible. Early intervention may make the allegations against you smaller. Early representation usually means that instead of waiting for an arrest warrant to issue that you will be able to self-surrender on or before the first court date and thus decrease the chance of a high cash bond being set.

Despite the knock on the door, many well-meaning people hang on to the hope that somehow it will go away by itself and valuable time is wasted. Many people think that if they hire a criminal lawyer that the police and prosecutors will believe you are guilty. Hiring a lawyer cannot be used against you. As hard as it may be to face the reality that legal cancer has just invaded your world, answer no questions about any allegation unless and until your lawyer advises you to do so.

There are some questions, which seek objective and verifiable answers, that you can ask a lawyer which may provide some guidance whether the lawyer is right for your defense:

What you might ask:

You can question a lawyer on the nature of his or her practice and whether the lawyer’s practice is exclusively the defense of the accused. You can ask the lawyer whether his or her practice is primarily in state or federal courts. You can ask whether the lawyer has defended others on similar charges and how often. You can ask whether the lawyer has taught aspects of criminal law to other lawyers or law students. You can ask whether the lawyer has been publicly disciplined by a bar association or successfully sued for malpractice and the circumstances of these actions. You can ask whether the lawyer is a member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Have they ever served in a leadership capacity in an exclusively criminal defense organization.

Hire an attorney with Criminal Defense experience in Milwaukee

You can ask younger lawyers about their rank in their law school class and whether they were elected to the school’s law review. You can ask whether the lawyer has written any published articles about criminal law and for a copy of what has been written. You can ask lawyers or judges you know and trust about the reputation of the lawyer you are considering retaining. You can ask the lawyer about any honors or awards he has received for his professional work. You can ask the lawyer whether he or she has ever been elected to membership or offices in organizations for criminal lawyers or bar associations. You can ask the lawyer for copies of fee agreements with his clients and whether the lawyer is willing to structure a fee agreement different from these contracts.

Questions you should not ask:

Don’t ask the lawyer what percentages of his cases has he “won.” Winning is a complicated concept. Sometimes winning is convincing a judge to dismiss the charge; sometimes winning is convincing the prosecutor to reduce the charge; sometimes winning is obtaining a sentence lower than one usually given for the offense; sometimes winning is securing probation for the client. Also, the more experienced the lawyer and the better his or her reputation, the higher fees can the lawyer charge and the more difficult will be the cases in which he or she is retained. Some lawyers are so competent and their reputation so great that they attract cases that no lawyer could successfully defend. Don’t ask the lawyer whether he or she socializes with the judge or prosecutor. Even without being prompted by your question, some lawyers will suggest either directly, or by implication, that their friendship with the judge or prosecutor will improve the probability of a favorable outcome. This self promotion arose in jurisdictions in which judges and/or prosecutors were corrupt. A lawyer who advances such a reason for being hired cannot be trusted to provide competent and honest representation. Ask the lawyer for references to whom you might talk, but always remember that some cases which are resolved are never made public and the client doesn’t want anyone to know that he was investigated or charged.

What you might hear:

Does the lawyer spend enough time listening to your problem. Does he or she inquire into your background and social history. Is the lawyer patient as you explain your case and does he or she carefully explain the law which is involved and the potential defenses available in such cases. Or does the lawyer spend most of his time talking about his or her own abilities, conquests and successes. Does the lawyer forthrightly and candidly answer your questions or is the lawyer evasive and non-responsive. Is the lawyer upset by your questions or does the lawyer recognize your need to know as much as you can before you place a life in his hands. If the lawyer is defending a case at the time of your initial conference, secure the name and location of the court where it is being tried and observe the lawyer’s work, his or her interactions with the judge, jury and court personnel and whether the lawyer appears to be respected by the judge.

Any Lawyer who says that they can guarantee a particular result is lying to you and stealing your money. I can only guarantee that you will receive skilled and creative representation and that I work incredibly hard to catch my adversaries off balance and under-prepared. Many people accused of crimes are railroaded by prosecutors who take advantage of ill-prepared lawyers. Thorough preparation, a well developed sense of outrage, an ability to see a road not previously taken and a kind heart is all Robin Shellow can guarantee.