It is every parent’s worst nightmare. You get a call in the middle of the night that your child, who you sent off to college a thousand miles away, is in jail and charged with a serious crime. In a state of raw panic, you turn to the internet and begin feverishly searching to locate a criminal defense lawyer who can immediately help you and help your son or daughter. But how does one go about choosing a defense lawyer from long distance; particularly when dealing with the crippling anxiety of knowing your child is incarcerated?
I think that anyone searching the internet for a defense lawyer needs to focus on candidates who (1) specialize in criminal defense (2) have spent a number of years working as a public defender prior to going into private practice and (3) have signature cases that demonstrate their actual level of ability.
My short list of requirements grows out of several perspectives I have developed towards that practice of law over the last several decades. I believe in specialization. I think the complexity of legal practice in the modern age demands it. The criminal law, like all areas of law, has grown more and more complicated in the 21st century. The field is constantly changing. The legislature regularly modifies criminal charges and procedures. The appellate courts constantly issue opinions that have an impact on questions of evidence, jury trial procedures, and sentencing issues.
I would want a lawyer who dedicated a number of their early work years to being a public defender before going into private practice. I continue to believe that nothing can replace the professional growth and skill development that comes with living the life of a full-time defender who spends every day in the criminal courts. A public defender in Colorado often spends 50 hours or more a week meeting with clients, negotiating with prosecutors, investigating cases, preparing for trial and arguing in front of juries. The constant demands and intense stress of the work produces a lawyer who has “been there and done that”. There is more than technical skill that goes into defending people. There is a question of “heart” and dedication to clients. Lawyers who commit part of their career to a defender system sign on to represent desperately poor people in a system that presumes their guilt. That kind of commitment to the criminally accused is an important aspect in the make up of an effective advocate.
Third, a seasoned criminal lawyer should demonstrate on his/her website that he/she has handled complex, demanding cases that required sophisticated analysis and powerful advocacy. The career defense lawyer can always point to specific cases that turned into major battles with the Government. Often those “war stories” highlight the lawyer’s capacity to investigate the case, uncover crucial evidence and strategically attack the prosecutor’s case.
It is important to keep in mind that these three categories are only tools to help you make an initial assessment of a lawyer’s internet presence.
In my next article, I will recommend another important issue in this process. Will the lawyer who is highlighted on the particular website be the lawyer who will actually represent your son or daughter?