Archives September 2021

Getting an Attorney to Handle Your Criminal Case

What Is Power Of Attorney?

Within the complex criminal justice system, a defense attorney serves as the defendant’s guide, protector, and confidant. (At least that’s how it’s supposed to be.) Defense attorneys are usually grouped in two camps: court-appointed attorneys paid by the government and private attorneys paid by the defendant.

Some criminal defendants can afford to hire a private criminal defense attorney. For those who cannot afford an attorney (approximately eighty percent of all criminal defendants), the court may appoint counsel to represent the defendant (assuming certain qualifications are met). These court-appointed attorneys are either public defenders who are on government salary, or they are so-called “panel attorneys,” local attorneys chosen from a panel. A small fraction of criminal defendants (approximately two percent) represent themselves and are referred to as “pro se” or “pro per” defendants.

What Does a Criminal Defense Attorney Do?

Criminal defense attorneys (private and court-appointed) research the facts, investigate the case against their clients, and try to negotiate deals with their adversaries (prosecutors). These deals might include reduced bail, reduced charges, and reduced sentences. Because of a number of factors—political and public pressure, overcrowded jails, overloaded court calendars—deal-making has grown in importance and has become an essential element in unclogging the criminal justice system.

Criminal defense attorneys also examine witnesses, help formulate a plea, analyze the prosecutor’s case, assess the potential sentences (and the likelihood of a particular judge awarding such a sentence), review search and seizure procedures, question witnesses, and gather evidence. Defense counsel can also advise on potential immigration consequences or other consequences of a plea, conviction, or criminal record.

Defense counsel also provide more personal services by giving the defendant a reality check as to the possible outcomes and by helping the defendant to deal with the frustrations and fears resulting from being thrown into the criminal justice system. And of course, if no plea deal can be made, the defense lawyer represents the defendant at trial.

Cost of Legal Representation

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A huge factor when it comes to legal representation is the defendant’s financial status and whether the defendant can afford private counsel.

Private criminal defense attorneys charge either on an hourly basis (expect to pay $150 an hour or higher) or by a fixed or set fee. They are prohibited from charging contingency fees, which are payments that depend on the outcome of the case. If the defendant is indigent (cannot afford private counsel), the court may appoint a government-paid public defender or panel attorney.

Some—but not many—folks have enough money so that paying for a lawyer isn’t a financial strain. But arranging for legal representation often isn’t as straightforward for those who fall in between these groups of people.

The bottom line for judges is that the right to free (government-paid) defense counsel generally kicks in whenever an indigent defendant faces a jail or prison sentence. If there is no possibility of incarceration—for example, a judge states on the record that she will not sentence the defendant to jail time—then the defendant might not be entitled to free counsel (depending on state law).

Note that the right to free representation does not mean a right to the lawyer of choice. A defendant who’s been appointed counsel normally doesn’t get to pick and choose in the way that a paying defendant does.

Is a Private Attorney Better Than a Court-Appointed Attorney?

Defendants sometimes believe that private attorneys possess a distinct advantage over the overworked public defender’s office or panel attorneys who are paid a minimum fee. But do private attorneys provide better representation than court-appointed government-paid defense counsel?

Many private attorneys are former prosecutors or public defenders. Based on studies that evaluate the outcomes of having a private versus court-appointed attorney, data seems to indicate that the results for defendants are often the same. For example, one study indicated that defendants represented by private counsel and public defenders fared similarly in conviction rates and sentencing (although those represented by panel attorneys fared worse). Such statistical evidence is not always reliable or clear because of complicating factors. For instance, clients represented by private counsel often have short or no prior criminal records, while indigent defendants are twice as likely to be repeat offenders. What is also unclear—and what creates one of the biggest uncertainties of the criminal justice system—is whether private attorneys can negotiate better plea deals than court-appointed counsel.

Ultimately, the experience, skills, and commitment of the particular attorney at hand—regardless of whether he or she is a public defender, panel attorney, or private lawyer—are the best indicator of the quality of the representation.

Self-Representation (Pro se)

What is clear is that being represented by a lawyer is almost always the best option. Nevertheless, some criminal defendants represent themselves. The decision of whether a defendant can self-represent is ultimately made by the judge, not the defendant. The judge is required to determine the defendant’s competency. That’s because a defendant who cannot provide a competent defense cannot get a fair shake, even if the defendant is adamant about not accepting the services of a court-appointed attorney. When determining whether a defendant can go pro se, a judge will consider factors such as:

  • the seriousness of the crime
  • the defendant’s language skills and education
  • whether the defendant understands the nature of the proceedings, and
  • whether the defendant is knowingly giving up his right to counsel.

Finding an Attorney

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When looking for a private defense attorney, look for an attorney who specializes in criminal defense and practices in the jurisdiction (city or county) where charges are pending. A local attorney will be familiar with the judges and prosecutors in that area. Learn more in our article on what to look for in a private criminal defense attorney. You can also find more information on our home page,

If you don’t have the financial resources to pay for an attorney, you will typically need to ask for court-appointed counsel (before or at one of your first court hearings) and fill our paperwork on your financial resources. Learn more in our article on public defender representation.

Ethical ‘Dos and Don’ts’ Attorneys Need to Know

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My partner Matthew Conroy and I recently presented a continuing legal education seminar called Ethical Dos and Don’ts for Attorneys. That seminar is available online at Lawline. During the seminar, we covered a lot of topics including the top five examples of attorney conduct that can lead to the filing of a grievance.  Here they are:

1. Misuse of client funds:

As a lawyer, I encourage you to be very cautious regarding client funds. If the funds aren’t yours, don’t touch them unless you have an absolute right to them, typically for hours billed under an hourly fee agreement, assuming your jurisdiction allows you to take undisputed amounts of money. Even in this case, practice cautiously, obtaining client consent if possible.

Obtain and keep a record of writing from a client,or whoever is entitled to the funds, authorizing and/or directing you as to what to do with the funds. If you’re able to demonstrate a good history with your escrow accounts and can show that the mistake was a clerical or bank-related error, ordinarily you can avoid a potential problem with a grievance committee.

Another potential grievance can arise into escrow without authorization from the payee, typically the client. Ensure you have the appropriate authority, either through a retainer agreement or other writing, to deposit money on behalf of clients or third parties into your escrow account.

2. Inattention to client matters:

This is another classic area that results in grievances. Every matter has a certain timetable. A documented failure to take timely action on behalf of a client in any particular matter can lead to a grievance. Ensure you have an appropriate diary system that reminds you of timelines, deadlines, and keeps an appropriate list of client matters that you or your firm represent. The system should be able to alert you to any “hot potatoes”—matters that have not received attention for a sufficient length of time.

3. Lack of communication:

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Timely communication with your clients is essential. If you don’t know the answer to a client’s question, don’t avoid them because you haven’t had time to do the research. Call and explain what’s going on, and if you can’t provide nor engage, get another attorney to help you find the answer; inform the client of this. Don’t ignore the matter because it will only besmirch your reputation and could lead to a grievance.

4. Notary stamps:

Lawyers in New York can fill out a form, pay a fee, and automatically become notaries. A notary stamp is a dangerous tool in the hands of a lawyer, however, if not used properly. Don’t do your clients or anybody else any “favors” and notarize a signature on their behalf when they are not in your presence. This can get you in trouble.

If you’re going to notarize something that will be sworn to in the form of an affidavit, pleading or something else in court, understand that you may be charged with all of the knowledge contained in the document, by virtue of your decision to notarize and swear to the signature on that document. For this reason, I would caution lawyers to make sure that their i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed when notarizing that kind of document on behalf of a client. As a general rule, I would suggest that you avoid the problem by having someone else notarize those documents.

5. Communicating with a client who’s represented by another lawyer:

We know the rule—don’t talk to a client who’s represented by opposing counsel. Nevertheless, sometimes things happen; an opposing client calls to confirm a meeting or to ask if you received what they sent to your office. Whether by accident or happenstance, you may communicate with a client who is represented by opposing counsel. Should this happen, the most important thing to do is to document that you received a call from the client, what the nature of the communication was, and then to convey the occurrence to the counsel who represents the client.

If you’re not clear whether the client is represented by counsel, document the conversation with the client and include that they had not advised whether they had counsel or not. If you document everything and instruct your staff that any communications can only be of the most basic nature, you should be able to avoid any problems or potential grievances.

This is not an exhaustive list. In day-to-day operations, any number of ethical questions may arise. The best way to be sure that you do the right thing is to contact an attorney who has the experience and expertise to guide you through your unique ethical dilemmas.

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Remember to practice with common sense and an appropriate abundance of caution, but not to practice in fear. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us.

10 Tips for Choosing a Law Firm

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Whether you need #legalassistance for your business operations or some criminal matters that you want settled, approaching the best law firm is the most vital step. Yet, drilling down to the right one is sometimes a hard rock to get over since many legal firms are available in the city. So, are you looking for a Law Firm in West Africa?

Getting down with some steps will assist you in hiring the best legal consulting services. Here are ten insightful points to ensure that you choose a reputable law firm for your case.
10 Tips for Choosing a Law Firm in West Africa

1) Know your case

The first thing you have to make straight is the case you want to present in a court of law. Be it an injury case, domestic or corporate case, choose the best legal presentation accordingly. Then, in your research, try and seek recommendations from friends and family members or a colleague who has an experience with the incident you are facing. Finally, by a button on your tablet, conduct due diligence by perusing the online reviews of a particular legal firm’s website and ensure you pick a top expert Firm.

2) How big is the legal Firm

Among the many factors to consider as you choose a law firm, the size carries a lot of weight because large legal firms mainly deal with corporate matters rather than individual cases. In contrast, small-sized legal Firms handle individual or business cases. Whichever legal assistant you choose, ensure you work with a Law Firm with all resources and lawyers to help you win your case.

3) Check the Experience of the Attorneys

Before choosing a legal firm, research to check the experience of their lawyers on the case you are presenting. You can also get more information about the lawyers by surfing through the Firm’s website and get a clear idea regarding their reputation. Doing such ensures that you hire only credible legal services increasing the chances of winning the case.

Also Read – “Tips for Hiring Business Formation Attorney in West Africa

4) Consider the Budget

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Be keen to hire legal assistance from a law firm within your pocket power. While doing individual research, get an idea of fees charged by different law firms or attorneys so that monetary disagreements don’t arise in the middle of a case. Additionally, it’s wise to work with a law firm that imposes a bill on their day-to-day calls or emails. Ensure to clarify the Firm’s billing method before hiring the services.

Make sure the law firm you are choosing falls within your budget. It would help if you had a clear idea about the fees charged by the lawyers so that you do not face any monetary issues later. Also, enquire about the billing method accepted by the law firm whether they charge payment per hour or a fixed amount before hiring the lawyer.

Different legal firms have different billing processes. Avoid the ones that are way cheap as they will possibly offer shoddy legal assistance. If you are looking for a law firm in West Africa, get the one that will give top results despite their charges.

5) Client Reviews

Understanding what former clients of a said legal firm have to say is a wise move. The reputation of a company hides in the minds of its former clients. The past customer testimonials will help you get a clear insight into the capacity and capability of the law you want to engage. Avoid firms that their clients complain about and work with those that their presentation is credited.

6) Check the customer service of the Firm

Amidst stress and anxiety, all you will need is a partner who offers an ear and assures you of a better day. The same applies when you are seeking an attorney to represent you in a court of law. Choose a legal firm that will effectively listen and communicate with you on the court proceedings. A right legal firm should inform you on the merits and demerits of the measures that may occur and assist you in making the best decision.

Also Read – “Advantages of Hiring a Business Lawyer when Starting a Company

7) Locality

It is one of the most vital decisions that people forget to consider. The location is paramount when selecting a legal firm. A legal firm near your place would offer you better and comfortable legal services than a faraway Firm. If you live within the West Africa region, ensure that you source legal assistance from a law firm conversant with the region’s court laws. Also, consider the nature of the case before hiring a law firm.

For instance, if you need the legal assistance of a real estate matter, involving a local legal firm is ideal for you. On the other hand, for those seeking legal assistance on cases dealing with federal law, national attorneys would serve better.

8) Availability

Most important is the reachability of a law firm. How easy or difficult is the Firm to reach? Do they respond to phone calls or reply to emails in time? These and many more are the vital queries you should demand responses to. Also, investigate to know the current lawyer’s workload. If a law firm is engaged in many cases while utilizing a few of their attorneys, then their availability will not be what you expect.

9) Flexibility

Sometimes, during legal proceedings, there may arise unprecedented situations that would need particular attention. At such moment, the legal Firm you have contracted will be required to bear with you and have a rescheduled program for the same. Therefore, it is worth knowing whether the legal Firm is ready to offer its services flexibly.

Also Read – “When and How to Hire a Business Lawyer: The Complete Guide

10) Licenses and Registration

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When looking for a law firm in West Africa, you must work with the one that is legally authorized to operate. Unfortunately, there are several quacks in the streets, and you may never want to fall in their hands. So, conduct due diligence about the Firm’s operationalization and their age in the industry. This way, you will comfortably trust them with your case and money without worrying about their legality.

Suppose you are looking for legal assistance in West Africa. In that case, you must check on the experience, cost, availability, and legality of the law firm before signing a contract with them. So take your time and ensure the above-listed key points feature in the Firm that is about to stand in the bar for you.

Ready to discuss your needs and thoughts? Contact us and our team will be ready to assist you in your journey.