By Bill Doogue. Partner, Doogue + George Defence Lawyers
So, you need a criminal defence lawyer, but who do you choose? Where do you start? Determining who represents you is the most important decision you will make.
I receive a large number of calls from people wanting to appeal their charges. They have been to court and received such a bad result they know it just has to be wrong. One client told me how she portended disaster when her lawyer pulled out a plaster cast of Jesus and put it on the table. She was right – the lawyer needed more help than that. But how did my client find herself in that position? Why didn’t she know that her criminal lawyer was not entirely up to winning her case?
Part of the problem is the “jack of all, master of none” approach to law practice. Many lawyers think they can do a bit of this and a bit of that. They do conveyancing and a bit of crime. It is a bit like your dentist offering to remove your appendix – not necessarily impossible but would the result be the same?
I always advise clients to shop around. Check criminal firms and talk to other lawyers and then decide. Sure, it is a luxury held by someone who is not desperate for work, but a client who talks to other people and then comes back is going to follow your advice.
Choosing a criminal lawyer to represent you – and be the catalyst for your liberty or a possible criminal record and / or gaol sentence – is far too important a decision to base on limited information. It is also a decision that is very personal. On a complex case you will spend a lot of time with your criminal lawyer. If you can’t stand them then it is time to find someone else.
When you are looking for criminal representation, you need to know to ask about a lawyer’s experience. That someone has lectured in criminal law is commendable. But how does that translate into practical experience and knowledge of how the game is really played? Ask the lawyer to detail results. I have this discussion with clients every now and then. We have every result our firm has achieved listed on our database “crimebase” and so can reel off our results without breaching confidentiality at all. This also enables us to give practical examples of tariffs, which is also a great significant consideration when looking for a lawyer.
Another important question to ask the lawyers is what they believe they do differently from other firms. What do they do better? Our firm places more emphasis on preparing our clients for court than any other firm in Melbourne. Some small examples that make a big difference – we will ask you to go and see your barrister in action. If you don’t like them, we change barristers. We encourage you to go and sit through similar cases so you understand the processes. If you are learning all of this at the door of the court, then you are leaving it too late and adding to your stress and reducing your chance of success. Preparation is the key.
One more discerning factor is specialisation. Is the lawyer or are other lawyers in the firm, specialists? By this, I don’t mean self-professed but a law institute accredited specialist. Specialists have to sit exams that cover both theory and practice. They also have to be recognized by their peers as being experts. Remember to ask about that – and beware of the sharks who can explain away everything but not demonstrate anything.
Any criminal lawyer worth their salt will be willing to have an initial chat to you at no cost. Call a lawyer and have that first chat on the phone. If a lawyer does not return your call on the same day when they want your work, how hard will they work for you once you have signed up?
Once you find a lawyer that you are happy with, keep pushing and making demands. A good criminal lawyer understands that they work for you and accepts that dynamic. They give advice and they then act on instructions.
And finally, good luck.
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