How To Choose A Good Lawyer

Interviewer: Once I’ve decided it’s going be important for me to interview some attorneys and possibly get one to represent me, what credentials should I look for when I’m talking to these guys? What warning signs? What’s going to tell me, besides this gut feeling, this lawyer is probably a good one for me to hire, or I better talk to someone else?

Ladan Law: I’ll let you in on the dirty little secret of trying to sign up clients. Being a criminal attorney has a business component to it. This is how we make our living and there’s a sales aspect to that. Some warning flags for me would be, number one, if you’re a first time DUI offender and you sit down at somebody’s office and they say I’m glad that you’re here. I’m the best in town. Sign here on the dotted line. My price is x number of thousands of dollars. You’re never going to have to worry about this ever again. I know everybody. I’m going to make this go away. You’ve done a great thing. That should send out a huge warning flag. We as criminal defense attorneys only have the power to negotiate and highlight problems in the state’s cases. We have no power to make things go away. Anybody that is making promises like that is acting borderline unethically, probably unethically by the Florida bar rules that we all have to operate under.

The other extreme that should raise a red flag is, “Oh, my goodness, Mr. Johnson, you’ve got a DUI. Do you realize how serious that is? You could go to jail. I mean if you don’t hire me, you’re going to spend some time in jail. What are you going to do about work and your family? Who’s going to take care of your kids? That should also send up a warning flag. Ordinarily, on a first time DUI there are a set number of minimum sanctions that the state will offer. Not one of them is jail time. On aggravating cases, certain circumstances they will ask for jail time. That’s when you need an attorney to evaluate that for you, but 99 out of 100 first time DUIs are not going to have a jail component, worst case scenario, from the prosecutor. If somebody is trying to frighten you into scaring them, that should also raise a red flag.

Here’s what I would look for if you’re looking for a good criminal DUI attorney. Number one, they’ve got a physical address. It seems like common sense. Orlando itself has two law schools pumping out 100 attorneys a semester. There are not a lot of firms hiring, so these guys are operating out of cars, out of their homes. That would send up a warning flag for me. If they’ve got an established address, that’s a good sign.

Number two, are they a former prosecutor? It is very easy for former prosecutors to look at the case, put their former prosecutor’s hat on, and decide these are the problems I would have if I were still prosecuting. It’s like a house builder, building a house and knowing where the weak walls are and say if you take that wall out the roof’s going to fall in. For the normal person to look at the house, it’s very difficult to do that. For a former prosecutor to look at a DUI case, we can pretty quickly identify the problems with the case and give you some guidance as to what can be done about those problems.

Interviewer: I’ve seen advertising where attorneys will say, “We’re aggressive. We fight for you.” Does that mean anything? What do you think when YOU see that? What should people think when they see that? Should they be swayed by it?

Ladan Law: Aggressive? That’s really more of a marketing and advertising buzzword than any substance behind it. The reality of the situation is this, you want a knowledgeable attorney. You want an attorney that is very adept at the law. Aggressive to me is someone that goes in and yells at the judge and pounds on the podium and demands things. I know this from firsthand experience. It’s absolutely detrimental to a client to have their attorney go in and try and act like a bully. Prosecutors are knowledgeable attorneys. They are not going to be swayed by that behavior. Nine times out of ten, you may be able to get what you want in a resolution very early in the case, without threatening or anything. Aggressive? I’m not sure that that means anything in the context of effective representation.

Interviewer:  There are some guys who are putting in prices out there, such as $1,000 for a DUI. We’ll take them all. That kind of stuff. For people who are overly concerned about price, do you think that’s a mistake? Someone that’s only charging a small amount, there’s got to be some compromise to that. What do you think someone is missing out on if they go with the cheapest lawyer?

Ladan Law: The cheapest lawyers are most likely recently minted out of law school. Attorneys who are successful don’t lower their prices. Their skills and their time have value. If an attorney is advertising a cut-rate fee it means two things to me. Number one, it means they are just starting out, they’re trying to carve out a niche in the market and trying to undercut everybody to compensate with volume of cases.

Or, it means that they’re going to have a bunch of add-ons. Oh, well, okay, you had a ticket when you got your DUI, well, that’s $500 extra. Would you like me to do your DMV hearing? That’s another $1,000. You may be paying a la carte for representation.

In my opinion, and the opinion that my law firm has a whole, we charge a flat fee. We discuss that with you. There are no hidden fees. We don’t charge for copies and telephone calls and those things. We established a fee that represents we are experts in our field. We’ve around a long time. We’re satisfied that this is a reasonable fee and the clients are going to be satisfied, as well.

Author: Amir Ladan
A former assistant state attorney for Orange/Osceola Counties, Amir has handled thousands of cases and dozens of trials, ranging from DUI and traffic offenses to murder, in both adult and juvenile court.

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