Most people don’t ever think that they will ever need a Criminal Defence Lawyer. So, choosing the right one can feel like a daunting task and can come at a time in your life when you are overwhelmed and anxious. You need to find an appropriately experienced Criminal Defence Lawyer, familiar with your kind of case, and with whom you have a rapport. The following are our 8 tips for choosing the right Criminal Defence Lawyer for you:
- Do your research –
Obvious, right? Well, it is actually astonishing how many people come to our firm (having previously been represented elsewhere) and who didn’t conduct thorough research the first time round!
When choosing a Criminal Defence Lawyer, you want to look at how long a firm or practitioner has been in business. It should be apparent from their website. If they don’t have a website, you might know former clients of that Criminal Defence Lawyer, who can fill you in. However, in addition to these enquiries, you should go straight to the Legal Services Board and Commissioner website. \
The LSBC keeps a register of lawyers and disciplinary action (https://lsbc.vic.gov.au/consumers/registers). You can see when a lawyer was admitted, whether they are under supervision and whether they have ever been subject to disciplinary action. If they have been subject to disciplinary action, you may want to make enquiries in relation to what action was taken and how long ago. If satisfied with what you have seen on their website and on the LSBC register, you can consult Google. Check their reviews, media reporting and their social media profile.
2. Don’t go “general”–
The person who prepared your Will or did you conveyancing may be a lawyer, but an expert Criminal Defence Lawyer is a person who does this as their primary practice. Avoid practitioners who dabble. Criminal law is complex and constantly developing, both in Parliament and before the Courts. Getting legal advice from a competent and experienced Criminal Defence Lawyer as early as possible is essential to securing the best possible outcome. A general legal practitioner may have criminal law on their website or shop front window. It doesn’t mean that they should be your preferred choice when there are a great selection of experienced and dedicated Criminal Defence Lawyers to choose from.
3. Don’t believe someone who promises an outcome at the first meeting –
You turn up at their office. You have just been interviewed by Police. You may have been charged and received your Brief of Evidence. Then, after a chat, you feel reassured because the lawyer has told you that you can be guaranteed a particular outcome. Well, if this is your first meeting with a Criminal Defence Lawyer and they are already telling you that you are guaranteed success (or failure), be wary. Competent legal advice means scrutinizing the Brief of Evidence. It means ensuring that all materials in the possession of the Police are disclosed. It means considering what legal objections and arguments are available. It means strategizing and, potentially, consulting Counsel or other experts. Whilst you might walk out feeling reassured, that feeling will fade if what was “guaranteed” doesn’t come to pass. It’s akin to a doctor telling you that the lump you have is nothing, only to receive a nasty shock when your blood test comes back!
When speaking with a competent and experienced Criminal Defence Lawyer, unless it is a very basic case (such as a first-time drink drive), you should expect them to tell you that they cannot guarantee an outcome. What they can do is scrutinize the evidence and give you the best possible advice. They should reassure you with their candour and with their hesitancy to commit to any sort of outcome until they have gone through everything. They will then advise you of the most likely outcome in your matter.
4. Meet with a few lawyers before choosing the one for you –
Shopping around is good and should be encouraged. The Criminal Defence Lawyer you choose is going to become an important person in your life. You need to feel comfortable with them because it is the ultimate relationship of trust. You should ask them about their experience in matters such as yours, what their general thoughts are about your case (if they have given you the option of providing your papers in advance) and what the criminal justice process looks like. But, more than that, do you get along with them? Do they have the right demeanour for you? Everyone is different and, similarly, everyone wants something different from their Criminal Defence Lawyer. Some want someone abrupt and outspoken. Others want someone openly kind and caring. If you are the parent of a child accused, you want someone who can communicate with your child in a way that makes them comfortable and also in a way that they understand. No Criminal Defence Lawyer should ever be offended that you have interviewed a few candidates before settling on them. They should be flattered!
5. Ask about their systems-
A boring question but an important one. Our firm, Galbally Parker Lawyers, operates by the motto that: You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems (credit to James Clear of Atomic Habits for that gem!). Systems are important. You cannot run the best legal practice without them.
They need to work and be secure. Successful management of your criminal file comes down to the skill of your Criminal Defence Lawyer and the organization of their systems. That includes human systems and technical systems. It may be pretty obvious to you. If you enter an office with files all over the place and documents falling out of draws, then that Criminal Defence Lawyer may not have the right kind of systems in place to make you feel comfortable that your file will be managed appropriately.
However, if it is not that obvious, you should either observe (if you are in their office) or ask them (if you are not), the following:
- What are their support staff like? Can you get in touch with an actual human being if your Criminal Defence Lawyer is in Court or unavailable. Will that person be able to reassure you about the progress of your matter and provide an update, even if your Criminal Defence Lawyer can’t jump on the call? There will inevitably be times when you want information or an update. Can you get one when you need it?
- What technology do they implement and how secure is it? In the post-COVID world, technology has never been more important. The security of the technology even more so! At a minimum, your Criminal Defence Lawyer should be able to securely share your materials electronically, appear in Webex/Zoom Hearings and be able to navigate electronic briefs (which are becoming more and more common). They should have an Axon account with Victoria Police and be able to seamlessly use all of the electronic filing systems operated by the Courts.
- How secure are your files and what are the fail-safe systems in place? If your files live on the internet (which is likely, given the use of cloud-based servers and the use of the Axon system for file sharing) then you want to ensure that your Criminal Defence Lawyer has secure and organized systems in place. Do they operate off a wifi network? Do they have the appropriate fire walls in place? What happens if they lose internet or experience technical difficulties? What are the fail safe solutions in place?
- Can their systems accommodate your needs? Every client has slightly different needs. For example, a corporate client might be highly organized and on top of their matter. A client who has mental health or cognitive issues may need more reminders of upcoming conferences or Court dates. If you have particular needs, can your Criminal Defence Lawyer accommodate those needs as part of their systems?
By way of example, our firm has four support staff and our phone is monitored during business hours and after-hours in cases of emergencies. In terms of technology, our firm uses the following: Evolve Go, OneDrive, Dropbox, Microsoft Office, Webex, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Axon, B-Point, Communicate, Efas, E-Lodgement, RedCrest and we have firewalls in place across our wifi network as well as a 4G backup in case the internet is affected by forces outside of our control.
6. Be honest about your budget –
If you are ineligible for legal aid, you will likely have a budget for your case. The best thing that you can do for yourself, and the Criminal Defence Lawyer whom you are consulting, is be honest!
There are lots of things that we can do to make your matter affordable for you. We may even be able to do the matter for a fixed fee. Most firms offer fixed fees for straight forward cases. However, even if your case is more complex and unlikely to attract a fixed fee, knowing your budget will affect the decisions that your Criminal Defence Lawyer makes. For example, we may allocate your file to a Criminal Defence Lawyer in the firm, who is experienced in cases such as yours, but who doesn’t charge out at the rate of a Partner or Senior Associate. We may tell you to go to your GP and get a mental health care plan so that you can access Medicare rebated sessions with a Psychologist, rather than send you to a private Psychologist. We may tell you to get private health insurance and wait a couple of months to access private rehabilitation treatment, rather than pay privately and upfront. If you have a budget, then discuss it early on in the proceedings with your Criminal Defence Lawyer.
7. Make sure that you get a costs agreement and read it carefully –
All lawyers, including Criminal Defence Lawyers, must provide you with a costs agreement outlining the manner in which they charge and your rights in relation to them. The costs agreement will include the rates for each staff member, the retainer amount and what Court appearances cost. They are, essentially, the contract between yourself and your lawyer. Take the time to go through the costs agreement and ask any questions that you might have. And remember, if you are provided with a costs agreement and then go on to instruct your lawyer then you are bound by that agreement, even if you haven’t signed it. It is acceptance by conduct. Most esteemed Criminal Defence Firms will not commence any work unless and until there are funds in their trust account. However, if your Criminal Defence Lawyer is happy to send an invoice for monies owed (rather than get them in advance), you may be in for a nasty shock if you haven’t read and accepted the terms of the costs agreement. Learn about our Fees and Charges here: https://galballyparker.com.au/fees-charges/.
8. There’s no such thing as “statistics” for success –
Criminal cases are not cookie cutters. They are all different. If you meet with a lawyer who says that they have a “90% success rate”, then you may want to ask them what their definition of success is. Obviously, in most people’s minds, the ultimate success might be going to trial and being found ‘not guilty’ of everything! However, that may not be realistic in every case. It may be that success in your case means convincing the prosecution to withdraw all. It may be getting Diversion. It may be getting bail. It may be negotiating a really good plea deal to lesser charges, which increase your prospects of avoiding the harshest available penalty. It may be avoiding a serious penalty, where one is available. Success comes in various forms and is far more complicated than a statistic. Statistics can be cheap selling points, which sound good at the start but which wear off with the experience.
Final note, if you are looking for an experienced Criminal Defence Lawyer and want to learn more about Galbally Parker Lawyers, we invite you to follow the 8 points above. We can be researched on:
- https://www.facebook.com/galballyparker; and
Good luck finding the right lawyer for you!
Galbally Parker Lawyers