Do You Really Need An Attorney?
In some cases, you may not need to hire an attorney to represent you. Often there is little or no help available because of the facts of a case. With no attorney you may get the same result that someone else will get with an attorney. However, there may be very good reasons to hire an attorney. So it is important to discuss your situation with an attorney before you decide to represent yourself.
Some attorneys don’t charge for an initial consultation. Others, like me do charge but will reduce your fee by the amount charged for the consultation. Take advantage of this and find out if you do need an attorney’s help!
Many people who are arrested for DUIs or simple possession of drugs end up getting their cases resolved with very little attorney involvement. For example, drug diversion of some type is available for nearly everyone arrested for drug possession offenses. (See DRUG CASES section) Again, check with an attorney to decide whether such a resolution makes sense in your case. If it does – you often can do that yourself and save money.
Consult with more than one attorney – compare reputations, prices, and your confidence with each.
How To Select An Attorney
Ask friends for recommendations. What is the attorney’s reputation in the community? Does he or she fight for their clients? Different cases require different talents. Some cases will be won or lost depending on legal maneuvers- eg. Suppressing evidence in court after an unlawful search. Other cases, sometimes called “sentencing cases” cannot be won outright but the outcome or sentence can be dramatically helped by experienced lawyering. Many cases simply require firm pressure against the other side. Sometimes a jury trial is required. Having earned the respect of the judges is also key. The judges know who they can trust and I have worked hard to gain their respect.
Remember that some attorneys have little or no trial experience. If you have an attorney who isn’t comfortable with the words “let’s go to trial”, then you are missing the ultimate leverage a defendant has – a trial attorney for an advocate. The district attorneys know who is and who isn’t a trial attorney. They know defendants who are represented by an attorney who hasn’t tried cases will plead out clients no matter how bad the DA’s offer. Unfortunately, there is a certain amount of gamesmanship involved in the District Attorney’s evaluation of their cases. Winning is important. Justice is subject to interpretation and statistics are very important to many of the Assistant District Attorney’s.
It used to be common for attorneys to have general practices: a little criminal law mixed with a little personal injury mixed with a little business law, mixed with a little family law. These days, to keep up with constantly changing laws, better attorneys have tended to specialize in fewer fields.
Santa Cruz Public Defenders are attorneys who work for one of three law firms which have contracts with the county to represent people who cannot afford to hire their own “private” attorney. The main public defender office handles the vast majority of cases and the others take cases if there is a “conflict of interest”. (Usually one attorney or firm cannot represent two people charged together- an attorney’s allegiance cannot be equal to both charged people: “He did it”. “No, she did it!”.)
I have the honor of having many public defender friends, colleagues and mentors. Santa Cruz is lucky to have so many excellent public defenders. Some counties have few or none- and this is one of the reasons for the poor reputation of public defenders around the state. Another complaint is that public defenders have nearly crushing case – loads and cannot spend as much time meeting and talking with clients. This sometimes leads to mistrust or poor communication. What I have seen though is that public defenders’ nearly total immersion in fighting for clients day in and day out teaches the vast majority of these attorneys how to be tough advocates for their clients.
Sometimes people start with a public defender and later hire a private attorney. That can work well for people – but on occasion I have seen lousy private attorneys take over from excellent public defenders and have terrible results. If you don’t have the funds to hire an attorney- work with your public defender and make sure you provide him or her with everything they need to defend you. For example, you know who can help as your witness to the events that led up to your arrest, make sure you get all names and addresses to your public defender so the witnesses can be contacted. Also, you know who could testify as a character witness for your truth and honesty or who can write a letter about your good character so your public defender can show the letter to the judge to try and help with your case. Obviously, if you have a public defender (OR A PRIVATE ATTORNEY!) who isn’t fighting for you, then it’s time to find an attorney who will.