Whether you are meeting with a lawyer for the first time or you are researching criminal defence lawyers online, you should know what characteristics to look for in a lawyer. In today’s market, many lawyers are now developing their own website to attract new clients, and as a prospective client, you should be aware of what to look for on a lawyer’s website.
Although the following is intended for those of you looking to hire a criminal defence lawyer, it can also be applicable anytime you are looking to hire a lawyer. Professional and personal characteristics you may want to look for when you are hiring a lawyer include; honesty and integrity, professionalism and civility, knowledge and competence, ability to communicate, and accessibility and availability. Remember, these are only some of the characteristic that a good lawyer will exhibit.
Honesty and Integrity
It is not a criminal defence lawyer’s job to tell you ‘not to worry and everything is going to be fine’. A lawyer has a responsibility to be open and honest with each client and to ensure the client understands all aspects of his or her case. If there is a likelihood that you could be convicted of the offence you are charged with, it is a lawyer’s responsibility to tell you that. Similarly, if there is a possibility you could receive a jail sentence upon conviction, it is a lawyer’s duty to inform his or her client that this possibility exists. It is a lawyer’s job to assess the strengths and weaknesses of your case, to understand the risks and benefits of each decision and to advise you honestly. so that you can make informed decisions.
You should be cautious of a lawyer who promises or guarantees any kind of result. With respect to criminal law the reality is this; there is a certain amount of the process that is beyond the control of the lawyer. The Crown Attorney has the discretion whether to; proceed with criminal charges, attempt to resolve them, or request that the charges be withdrawn. The trial judge makes the ultimate determination of whether evidence is admissible and whether an application under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is to be successful or not. A judge or a jury is the trier of fact and will ultimately decide whether a person is guilty or not guilty, and it is a judge who ultimately determines what penalty shall be imposed. A lawyer can advocate fiercely on your behalf, but at the end of the day a lawyer cannot guarantee a result that is not completely within his or her control.
Ask yourself, is the lawyer that you are considering hiring genuinely concerned about your case and that you understand what your options are, or is this lawyer more interested in signing up another client? Something to look for is whether the lawyer is willing to meet with you free of charge for an initial consultation. Often these lawyers are genuinely concerned that you understand what your legal options are and they are willing to take the time to explain this to you free of charge.
Professionalism and Civility
A criminal defence lawyer has a responsibility to fearlessly raise every defence available to you and to advocate fiercely on your behalf; however a lawyer is still an officer of the court and a licenced member of the legal profession. A lawyer has a duty to act with civility with all parties involved in the criminal justice system, as well as a duty not to misrepresent the court. Simply put, a lawyer who acts in a professional and civil manner is more likely to work cooperatively and effectively with Assistant Crown Attorneys and Judges, which can be to your benefit.
How a lawyer conducts himself or herself while meeting with you may give you an indication of that lawyer’s professional conduct with others. When you meet with a lawyer ask yourself, does the lawyer appear to take a personal approach, or do you feel like you are just another client? Pay attention to the small details, such as whether the lawyer is concerned he or she has pronounced your name correctly. Is the lawyer dressed in professional attire such as a suit? Is the lawyer sensitive to any religious or cultural considerations?
Knowledge and Competence
Knowledge, competence and experience are not necessarily synonymous when it relates to practicing law. There are many young lawyers who are both knowledgeable and competent. Similarly there are well experienced lawyers who are not necessarily the strongest advocates.
With respect to knowledge and competence, consider looking for a lawyer who appears to have a good understanding of criminal law and procedure, as well as someone who is able to understand how the facts of each case apply to the law. Knowledge and competence of the law includes much more than simply how long a lawyer has been practicing and what he or she tells you about their success rate.
When you are looking at a lawyer’s website, ask yourself is this lawyer simply trying to market himself or herself, or is apparent that the lawyer has a strong understanding of criminal law. Another question you can ask yourself is whether the lawyer has made any attempts on his or her website to provide you with information on criminal law and how our criminal justice system works.
If you are meeting with a lawyer for the first time, ask yourself is it clear that the lawyer has prepared for your meeting? Is he familiar with the sections of the Criminal Code for which you have been charged? Is he or she able to answer questions you have about the offence you have been charged with? Does he or she explain how your matter can proceed through our criminal courts? Does the lawyer appear to have a plan about how to approach resolving your matter? The answers to these questions can tell you a great deal about a lawyer’s knowledge and competence of the law.
Ability to Communicate
A significant portion of criminal law practice requires that a lawyer be able to communicate efficiently and effectively with others, or what we often refer to as ‘people skills’. A lawyer needs to be able to communicate with his or her clients, but also with Assistant Crown Attorneys, Judges, Police Officers, and other court administrative staff. A criminal defence lawyer’s ability to communicate in an effective and professional manner is an essential component to practicing criminal law.
When you are looking at a lawyer’s website, is it easy follow? Do you understand the content you are reading on the lawyer’s website? Is the lawyer able to communicate the services he or she provides and his or her role and duties as a criminal defence lawyer?
When you meet with a lawyer, do you feel comfortable talking to him or her? Does the lawyer take the time to explain the offences you have been charged with in language you can understand and not legal jargon? Did you leave the lawyer’s office with a basic understanding of how the criminal justice system works and what your legal options were? Or did you leave the lawyers office with more questions than you started with?
Whether a lawyer can communicate effectively can have a significant factor in determining how successful he or she can advocate on your behalf, both inside and outside the courtroom. A lawyer’s ability to communicate effectively with you can also help to answer any questions you have and can make dealing with your matter a little less stressful.
Accessibility and Availability
Is a lawyer committed to returning your call within a reasonable period of time, is he or she available to meet within a reasonable period of time, does he or she appear to be organized? These are questions you should be asking yourself. Criminal defence lawyers are frequently in court or meeting with clients, and therefore they often cannot respond to phone calls or emails immediately. However, you should be looking for a lawyer who is committed to return your call or email within 24 to 48 hours. Depending on a lawyer’s schedule he or she should also be able to arrange a meeting with you within a week; however it may be longer if the lawyer is in a lengthy trial for example.
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