When John’s Mother learned he was arrested in Pensacola and placed in jail on a $100,000 bond she didn’t know what to do. She had never had any dealings with an attorney before in her life and neither had John who had no criminal history except a couple traffic tickets. She didn’t know what she needed to do to help her son who was calling from in the jail begging for her help. For the first time in her life she felt helpless. Does she call a bondsman? Who are they and what do they do? Or does she call an attorney? Where would she find one? She picks up the Yellow Pages and sees page after page of attorneys advertisements, some claiming that they will “fight hard for you” and others ads saying self-serving, aggrandizing statements of what they will do if she hired them. She had limited resources and knew she wanted her son out of jail. Should she just start calling them? She decided she needed to do something so she started calling attorney after attorney. Many didn’t call her back. How interested could they be in helping if they didn’t call back? Or maybe they were just too busy. Some called back but didn’t want to talk to her for very long with charging a fee. How could she know if the person was the right attorney for representing her son?
Unfortunately, this is the situation many people are faced with when a loved one is arrested. I know I hate to pick up a phone book and call any service related business, be it plumber, electrician, car mechanic, out of the blue and hope that I get someone who will be honest with me and who I can trust. The other day I had trouble with a car who my regular mechanic didn’t service, so I called him and asked him who would he call if he had a car like mine to give me honest and trustworthy service. I knew good service wouldn’t be cheap. Much the same can be done if your loved one is arrested. Call friends who may know an attorney and ask them their advice. Chances are even if the attorney who they know doesn’t handle criminal cases he will refer you to several who he considers reputable. Ask that attorney, if he or she were in trouble, or if a loved one was in trouble, who would they use? If you know people who work in the court house, or people who know people who work in the courthouse, get them to call for you and get some names of reputable attorneys.
Picking someone out of the phone book may yield good results; however, the phone book is probably not the best place to obtain someone’s name who will have the responsibility of having your loved one’s future life and liberty in their hands. You want someone who you can communicate with easily, who doesn’t talk over your head, who listens extremely well. Most attorneys are not trained to be good listeners. Law school doesn’t teach lawyers how to listen; if fact quite the opposite: it teaches people how to be adversarial. Being adversarial is not necessarily, in my opinion, what wins cases or what your loved one may need in an attorney. The best attorney in the Courtroom is the most prepared attorney in the Courtroom. One side wins by being more prepared than the other. Of course, facts cannot be changed and not even the most prepared attorney can always win. There is no real life Perry Mason. (By the way, Perry did lose one case; of course it was reversed on appeal. How Hamilton Burger, the prosecutor, kept his job I don’t know).
You also should understand that even the simplest case may take six months or more to resolve. More serious cases often take well over a year. So it is important that you hire an attorney who you can build a relationship with and who will take the time to get to know you or your loved one as a person and yet, at the same time, they must have the skills and drive necessary to effectuate the most positive outcome in the case.
Calling friends and relatives who may know people involved in the system may be invaluable in the long run. Even if you have to use the phone book and “cold call’ attorneys, be sure to personally interview the attorney and use your “gut” intuition about him or her. Is the attorney someone you feel comfortable with? Did they seem to know the nuances of the local judicial system? Did they make any attempts to learn about your or your loved one’s case before you came in for the interview so they could maximize the value of the interview time? Did the person come highly recommended by another attorney? Was the attorney’s staff pleasant to deal with? Were they patient with you when you called initially to set up the appointment with the attorney? You will also be getting to know the staff of the attorney during the progression of the case, so you need to have a level of trust and confidence in them as well. Also, another question you may ask yourself is if the case is one that should go to a jury trial, how will the attorney you interview relate to or connect with the people on the jury?
Overall, effective criminal defense lawyers are extraordinarily caring people otherwise they would not be successful in private practice. A non-caring attorney can only “fake it” for so long. Trustworthiness, caring and the willingness to prepare every aspect of the case are the attorney’s best assets.