IMPORTANT: Please note the below information is worded for an overall, and general understanding of legal circumstances and considerations, it is NOT to be taken as legal advice applicable to any specific circumstance and it is NOT to be relied upon in individual cases and interactions with the criminal justice system. Please call or book an appointment for advice to your unique circumstances.
The scenario: You just got the call telling you that your son or daughter has been charged with a serious offense here in Ontario. If convicted, this charge can derail their young lives. What do you do?
This is one of the most stressful things a person will go through and, if you’re reading this, you’re likely in a similar situation.
You know you need to hire a lawyer, but where to start? Even if you regularly work with corporate or estate lawyers, hiring a criminal lawyer to defend yourself or someone you love is a different situation all together.
Here’s how you can make sure you choose the best lawyer possible, at various points in the case:
In those early hours, your mind is going to be working differently than it does normally, so my advice is a little different.
Hire Your Own Lawyer
I’ve worked with many families and in those early hours of an arrest, it can be hard to think straight. It’s common to grasp the first offer of help which, in this situation is usually a court-appointed lawyer. Resist this urge. I have every respect for my colleagues who perform this service, but you need your own lawyer who can focus exclusively on YOUR case, not your case and the other 22 cases for that shift.
Court-appointed duty counsel can only plead you guilty and can’t conduct trials or properly assess your case. Therefore, most clients who initially choose duty counsel will have to hire their own lawyer at some point, or they may choose to represent themselves, which is almost always a disaster.
Focus On The Bail Hearing
First things first: Bail. Let’s do everything we can to get you out of jail. With bail hearings, we have very little time to prepare but hiring your own lawyer to handle the bail hearing could be the difference between spending the next six months behind bars vs. safe with family.
Go With Your Gut
The bail hearing gives you a good opportunity to see if you like and trust the lawyer you’ve chosen. This is important.
The court process is complicated, time consuming and can be frightening. The advantage of having a criminal lawyer on your side is they can navigate the process for your, ensuring you achieve the best result possible, but if you don’t get along with your lawyer, or there isn’t trust between you, you will question the process, feel disempowered and hopeless. Go with your gut.
Ask About Previous Experience
Would you hire a corporate lawyer to figure out child custody or a personal injury lawyer to draft a will? Of course not. Don’t hire a lawyer who focuses exclusively on drunk driving to represent you on a charge of assault.
Go through the lawyer’s website and make sure they have experience representing the charges you or your family member is facing. If it’s not obvious, ask them: Do you have experience defending others against this charge? And if the lawyer says ‘yes’, ask for examples and to see published case results.
Be Clear On Fees
You want to work with a lawyer who is transparent about their fees. Sometimes lawyers are not the best communicators about these things, so I encourage you to ask, and keep asking until you are crystal clear on how your lawyer’s fees work. There should never be surprises in this area.
Ask Who Will Do The Work?
If you choose to work with a lawyer who is part of a larger firm, make sure you ask who will do what. In larger firms, much of your case may be handled by a junior. This may not be a problem, but you will want to be clear on how much access you will have to the lead lawyer, or you will likely end up frustrated and unsure that your case is being prioritized.
Hiring a defense lawyer, much like hiring any profession, relies on having a good relationship, setting clear expectations on aim, process and fees.
The reality is that it’s not easy to know if you’re working with the right lawyer from a single meeting, but these questions will go a long way to helping you feel confident in your decision to retain that lawyer or to keep looking.
And by the way, no lawyer should feel offended by these questions. It is your right to ask about the experience of the firm that you are placing your livelihood in. If anything, your lawyer should appreciate the respect your efforts, and if they don’t, this is a big red flag.
The philosophy at Trica Law is simple: Once you hire the firm, we are working together as a team. We set a general plan and a destination, and then our job is, quite literally, to navigate the court process, and do everything within the means of the law to get you the result you seek. Your success is our success.
If you have questions about your case or need a lawyer, please drop me a line