Whether misdemeanor or felony, being charged with a crime is likely one of the most stressful events you will ever experience. I sincerely hope that you never have to endure this experience, but oftentimes, these matters are beyond our control.
Wrong place, wrong time. Two glasses of wine, a burnt-out tail light and a state trooper right behind you. Riding as a passenger in your friend's car where there's a baggie of something illegal in the center console.
You don't have to be actively or even intentionally breaking the law to find yourself in trouble. Sometimes, the trouble finds you.
Nevertheless, when you are in trouble, you will need a criminal defense attorney. Hopefully, the best one that you can afford. You will want an attorney with a track record of experience, good results, and one who enjoys a good reputation among judges, prosecutors, and fellow attorneys.
The Internet makes this very easy for prospective clients. There was a time when you might blindly search Google and hire the first lawyer whose website popped up. You may speak to a friend or colleague and hire an attorney based on that one referral. But with review sites, such as AVVO, you can do your own research on your prospective attorney before even picking up the phone to call them.
So it is important to thoroughly vet your attorney before signing an Agreement and paying them a fee. After all, criminal defense attorneys can cost quite a bit (depending on the case) and the fee is almost always non-refundable.
But money aside, what do you do if you feel that your attorney is not doing the job you hired them to do?
First and foremost, attorneys cannot promise or guarantee a result. If an attorney promises you a result, run out the door and don't leave your credit card on their desk. These attorneys who promise results are often desperate to get clients and will almost always fail to deliver.
If is highly unethical for an attorney to promise a result. An attorney should promise to do whatever is in their power to achieve the best result, to work as hard as they can on your behalf, and to always be honest and attentive. But never - EVER - should an attorney promise a certain outcome.
So if you are looking for an attorney to guarantee a result, then I assure you, you'll find one. It won't be me - sorry. But whomever you retain, I certainly hope they can fulfill their promise to you.
Attorneys cannot promise results but they should be working toward a solution. Is the attorney updating you, at least semi-regularly? Attorneys do not need to contact clients every single day. Nor should clients contact their attorneys every single day as well. Attorneys who are successful (and you want to hire one who is) will have many cases to deal with at one time. Their time and attention is often spread out among dozens and dozens of matters at one time. So you should respect your attorney's time and attention and contact them on an as-needed basis.
Some attorneys are more accessible than others. I give all clients my cellphone number. I allow clients to text/call/email without much restriction. While I wouldn't fault an attorney for not giving out their cellphone number, I think that clients really appreciate open and available communication with their attorney.
If your attorney is not communicating with you, not returning calls or emails, then it may be time to consider hiring a new attorney.
Delays in your case are also something to consider. While time is your friend when you are charged with a crime (time allows evidence to grow stale, for witnesses to forget, for victims to lose interest), an undue delay for no strategic purpose may be harmful to you and your overall mental health. You want closure, right? Some form of resolution. This nightmare called criminal prosecution to come to a foreseeable end. If you attorney is just kicking the can down the road for no reason, then it may be time to find somebody new.
Money. If you are on a payment plan with your attorney, you need to keep up with your payments. An attorney can withdraw from further representation, without refunding you one dime of what you have already paid. But if the payments are too high and the attorney is not doing enough work, you may want to cut your losses and find an attorney who may be able to take over the case, perhaps for less than what you owe to your current attorney.
There are MANY factors that you must consider before switching attorneys. But remember that you can switch, or substitute, attorneys. You are not married to the attorney who is presently representing you.
Consider all factors, but remember to be reasonable. There are many things that happen along the way that that may be beyond your attorney's control. Are they working? Are they putting forth effort? Are the roadblocks or lack of results at this stage of the litigation their fault or are those the circumstances of your case?
If you feel that you attorney is not right for you, then it is time to consider a switch. However, I always recommend that you speak to your attorney first and try to salvage the relationship before moving on.
Eric Matheny is a criminal defense attorney serving Miami, Broward, and Palm Beach.