Six Things To Consider When Hiring a Criminal Defense Lawyer

If the state or federal government has charged you with a crime, the last thing you need is a substandard lawyer. Hollywood movies like My Cousin Vinny make it seem entertaining to endure representation by a lawyer who doesn’t know what they are doing. 

In reality, however, it’s terrifying. Regardless of whether the police have charged you with a drug offense, a DUI, or a sex crime, be sure to secure competent representation.

How To Prepare for an Initial Consultation

How To Prepare for an Initial Consultation

In addition to following the advice listed below, talk to the attorney (over the phone if you’re incarcerated) to learn what additional preparations you need to make.


Bring the following documentation to the extent that it exists and is relevant to your case. If you are stuck in jail and can’t gather any of this documentation yourself, get a friend or a family member to help you provide the lawyer with:

  • Your contact details;
  • Details on your next court date;
  • Written information about your personal and professional background;
  • Documentation of any previous arrests or convictions;
  • Criminal complaints (misdemeanor or felony);
  • Police reports;
  • Indictments;
  • Bail paperwork; and
  • Information about any restraining orders.

Additionally, include anything else that might be relevant. When in doubt, collect it.

Tips To Prepare for the Meeting

Observe the following tips to get the most out of your initial consultation with a criminal defense lawyer:

  • Don’t talk to the police, even if you are not guilty. The police are masters of deceptive “ways of making you talk” that could greatly complicate your case.
  • Suspend your social media accounts while your case is pending. The prosecution can use your posts as evidence against you.
  • Gather all the evidence you can, both favorable and unfavorable. 
  • Create a list of witnesses. This list should include both friendly and hostile witnesses. Your lawyer needs to know the good, the bad, and the ugly about your case.
  • Write a list of questions to ask your lawyer concerning the foregoing topics.

Your lawyer can (and almost certainly will) meet you in jail if you cannot secure your release. You are under no obligation to hire the lawyer if you don’t want to.

Attorney-Client Privilege, Attorney-Client Confidentiality, and the Importance of Honesty and Candor

Be honest and candid, even if you are guilty. Attorney-client privilege and attorney-client confidentiality protect your confidentiality in and out of court, even if you haven’t hired the lawyer yet and even if you never do. Your lawyer cannot testify against you; and with certain very limited exceptions, they cannot reveal confidential information about your case to any third party.

Remember this as well: You can confess guilt to your lawyer and keep it a secret, but you can’t give your lawyer a gun to hide. Take advantage of your right to confidentiality by telling your lawyer the truth. The truth is the best weapon your lawyer has to protect you, even truth that is confidential. 

Does Your Lawyer Have Significant Experience in the Local Court?

A “local” court doesn’t just mean a Montana court. Montana is a big state. It means experience in the exact court that will hear your case. 

The lawyer should be familiar with individual prosecutors and judges, for example. Just being known is not enough. They should enjoy friendly, mutually respectful relationships with the people they will be dealing with while they are defending you. 

Is Your Lawyer a Public Defender?

It’s okay, even helpful, if your lawyer has experience as a public defender. It’s not okay if they currently serve as a public defender. Although most public defendants are skilled and dedicated, their workloads are so high that they probably won’t be able to devote sufficient time to your case. Even the world’s greatest lawyer can’t manufacture a 25th hour to the day.

Time and energy are limited resources, and the busier your lawyer is, the less likely they are to be able to devote sufficient time to your case to win you an acquittal. Prosecutors realize this fact, and it doesn’t particularly motivate them to offer generous plea bargains.

Does Your Lawyer Believe You?

If you are innocent, it is important that your lawyer believes you. If they don’t, their disbelief will likely be obvious to the court. And you don’t need a court that can see that even your lawyer doesn’t believe you. A lawyer who doesn’t believe you can be dangerous in other ways as well. They might, for example, advise you to accept a plea bargain against your interests.

What if you are guilty? On one hand, you could argue that your lawyer needs to believe in your innocence even if you are guilty so that they can convince the court that you are innocent. 

Ultimately, however, what your lawyer most needs to believe is the truth, whatever that happens to be. If you are guilty and your lawyer knows it, you might need a lawyer who can convince the court that they believe you’re innocent when even they don’t.

Plea Bargaining

A plea bargain is a deal between you and the prosecutor. You agree to plead guilty to a lesser charge (to avoid a trial), and the prosecutor agrees to recommend that the judge accept your plea.

The evidence against you might be so overwhelming that you need to accept a plea bargain to avoid a harsh sentence. In that case, your lawyer will negotiate with the prosecutor. The prosecutor probably believes you’re guilty no matter what your lawyer says or does.

Does Your Lawyer Have an Empathic Personality?

Empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes so that you see things from their point of view. Does your lawyer appear to value your well-being, or are you just another case number? Empathy in a criminal defense lawyer is the “special sauce” that can make the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful representation. 

If your lawyer presents an indifferent or (worse yet) condescending attitude toward you, find another lawyer. Is the lawyer willing to fight for you, or do they seem to be looking for a quick (and easy) plea bargain? Do you like the lawyer? Do they appear to like you? Your gut feeling matters a lot here.

You Might Be Facing the Most Important Decision You’ll Ever Make

Imagine three possible fates: acquittal, a favorable plea bargain, and conviction at trial. That might mean the difference between walking free, going to prison for 18 months or so, or going to prison for ten years or more. Since it all might come down to who you select as your criminal defense lawyer, don’t take this decision lightly.

Contact Our Montana Criminal Defense Lawyer For a Free Consultation

If you’re facing criminal charges and need help, we’re here for you. Contact Peabody Law PLLC to schedule a free consultation with an experienced Whitefish criminal defense attorney at (406) 609-0708.

Visit Our Criminal Defense Law Office in Whitefish, MT

Peabody Law PLLC
121 Wisconsin Ave., Suite 201
Whitefish, MT 59937

(406) 609-0708

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