Selecting a criminal defense lawyer might be one of the most important choices you ever make. Criminal penalties aren’t as harsh as they were in the late twentieth century. However, even a relatively minor infraction for a first-time offender could mean lengthy court supervision or incarceration. Furthermore, the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction, like employment issues, linger long after the sentence is over.
After an initial inspection, pretty much every Minnesota criminal defense lawyer seems alike. But upon further review, some significant differences become apparent. This post should give you some areas to focus on as you look for the attorney who is right for you.
The search process should be thorough, but relatively fast. Many defendants wait until the last minute, perhaps even until their first court date, before they seriously consider hiring a lawyer. In these situations, your attorney must play catch-up. Anyone who has ever played from behind in any athletic contest knows how challenging that is.
Conventional wisdom says find the most experienced criminal defense attorney possible. Alas, conventional wisdom isn’t always right.
Don’t get us wrong. Experience is probably hands down the most important quality in a Minnesota criminal defense attorney. Inexperienced lawyers sometimes miss procedural or substantive defenses which could alter the outcome. Furthermore, inexperienced attorneys are usually unfamiliar with all the written and unwritten rules of lawyering. But as outlined below, it’s not the only factor to consider. Furthermore, experience can be misleading.
Many criminal defense attorneys are experienced compromisers. Negotiation is an important tool, because less than 5 percent of criminal cases go to trial. But an attorney should always prepare as if the case will go all the way. After all, thorough preparation is often the key to a successful negotiation. If you talk to a new car salesman before you do any research, you probably won’t get the best deal on the best car.
Once attorneys settle case after case after case for years and years and years, they often assume that your case will settle, and so they take shortcuts. That’s not the sort of advocate you want. If a lawyer says little or nothing about a plan of action, it might be a good idea to keep looking.
On a related note, some very experienced attorneys have a “been there, done that” attitude. Some lawyers talk with their clients about possible resolutions, like “you’ll probably get three years’ probation for this offense,” before they even delve into the facts.
Passion for individual rights fuels most Minnesota criminal defense lawyers. Lawyers without this dedication usually don’t make good advocates.
The late Grant Cooper, who was RFK assassin Sirhan Sirhan’s lawyer, is a good example. Cooper was a former high school dropout who built a very successful career as an attorney. But he was a celebrity lawyer and not a criminal lawyer. He focused on high-profile cases for high-profile clients. The case could be a criminal matter, a dispute over a will, a divorce, or pretty much anything else.
Probably due to his lack of dedication to criminal law, Cooper did not aggressively attack the state’s evidence in the Sirhan case, although there were some obvious holes. For example, eyewitnesses consistently said that Kennedy was about six feet from Sirhan, but the autopsy indicated that the fatal shot was fired at point blank range (less than three feet).
Cooper did an admirable job under very difficult circumstances and we don’t want to criticize dead people. If he had been more aggressive, jurors might have still found Sirhan guilty. However, he might have received a lesser sentence, and he might not still be behind bars today. Alternatively, a more dedicated attorney might have been able to engineer a favorable plea bargain arrangement.
Apropos of nothing, Cooper is front and center in one of the latest Kennedy conspiracy theories. According to some, he threw the case so authorities wouldn’t indict him on unrelated charges. Like all good conspiracy theories, there is some evidence to support this idea, but not much.
Back to the blog. Look for a criminal defense lawyer in Minnesota who devotes most of his/her practice to criminal defense. Lawyers who dabble in criminal defense often have little passion for this kind of work, and without that passion to fuel their purpose, they are often lost.
Experience and dedication only go so far. Your attorney must also be available. This area might be the most difficult one to evaluate. There’s a very fine line between too available and not available enough.
If you go to a new restaurant on a Saturday night and there are no cars in the parking lot, that’s usually a bad sign. The food and/or the service might be below average. Likewise, if your Minnesota criminal defense lawyer answers your emails almost instantly and can see you even if you don’t have an appointment, there’s probably a reason the attorney has few clients.
The opposite is also true. A very popular restaurant might have a two-hour wait. Nobody’s pasta is that good. In the legal context, very busy attorneys often assign most of their work to a new associate or even a non-lawyer paralegal. In either case, you are not getting an experienced and dedicated advocate.
Usually, the 3/30 rule is a good way to assess an attorney’s availability. You should not need to wait more than about three days for an appointment, and you should not be able to see your attorney much sooner than that. Once the appointment, especially if it’s an initial consultation, begins, the attorney should listen intently for thirty minutes then usher you out the door.
Please be aware that this article was written and published in conjunction with the help of Gorilla Webtactics, Law Firm SEO Agency, and does not contain legal advice. Please do not act or refrain from acting based on anything you read in this article.