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18 Top Questions to Ask Before Engaging a Criminal Defence Lawyer

Before making this important decision, interview your potential legal candidates in order to find out who is better suited to handle your criminal case.

Being involved in a criminal investigation is both stressful and complex. The outcomes, such as fines and imprisonment, can destroy entire families and ruin the reputation of individuals forever.

The decision of choosing the most capable lawyers for the task is very important and must not be taken lightly.

Interview several firms and lawyers in order to have enough information in terms of academic credentials, courtroom and litigation experience, expert advisory and the most important, getting to know the people in the team, as you are trusting them with your entire life and assets.

A great way to interview these legal professionals is to have a straightforward set of questions, which will be quite useful when making such an important decision. The following questions will help you decide who the best lawyer is according to your budget and needs.

“Being involved in a criminal investigation is both stressful and complex”

Feel free to ask your potential candidates these and other questions, as trusting them is the most important part of the legal task ahead of them.

In addition, allow them to ask you all types of questions, so these legal experts can better understand the nature and extent of your case.

1. Should I hire a firm or a sole practitioner?

Both options are 100% valid as long as they are experienced in criminal defence.

On one side, a sole practitioner will dedicate entirely and personally to your case. This means that you will communicate directly with the person that is going to hearings and will present your matter in court. The downside of a sole practitioner is the possible lack of resources and the fact that such a lawyer may be overwhelmed by the amount of paperwork and evidence provided by the prosecution in large and complex matters while needing to manage other files. Ordinarily most sole practitioners lawyers take work on they are able to manage.

In the event that you choose a firm or a defence team, they can put their minds together providing different approaches to your case. In addition, lawyers can replace one another to assist in preparing for any stage of the matter.

Multiple lawyers and paralegals at your service sounds like a great option. The main disadvantage is that you are being contacted by different lawyers within the firm and that can cause a breakdown in communication.

1. When exactly do I need a criminal defence lawyer?

Immediately after being apprehended or arrested by the police. Also, when you find out that you have been accused of criminal behaviour and must present yourself to a police station or court to answer a warrant.

It is imperative to have a lawyer at the earliest stages of any prosecution against you, as you have a great number of rights and criminal defence lawyers will defend such rights from the very beginning of your case. They also play an important role in protecting you from self-incrimination.

3. How do I know they are competent and well prepared?

The legal industry depends mostly on two important factors: recommendations (based on past success) and academic or industry prestige. The lawyer with the biggest banner or most colourful business card is not necessarily the most capable.

Ask your potential legal candidates about their professional experience in criminal defence. Also, about their previous jobs, whether at firms or the public sector. Academic credentials are very important as well.

Choose the lawyer with the best combination of postgraduate studies and experience, as the mix of both will result in an outstanding professional or group of professionals who will handle your case.

4. What is more important, reputation or courtroom experience?

Some lawyers become visible because of high profile cases, or because they represented famous people. This does not guarantee that they are experts in cases similar to yours.

“Courtroom experience is much more important than reputation”

In this case, experience is much more important than that of reputation. It can be argued that reputation doesn’t come without experience, however, it’s important you gauge the practitioner in this regard.

You can also hire a lawyer that has tremendous experience and a big reputation, it will all come down to your financial budget and how you ‘connect’ with that practitioner.

5. Is it important that the members of my criminal defence team have experience as prosecutors?

No, although it can be handy. Having experience on the other side of criminal law, will provide inside knowledge on what will be the approach of the matters conduct. It may further assist with respect to the negotiation process.

However the downside is that such a practitioner may have become too institutionalised prior to joining the defence bar and their prosecutorial attitude may just be second nature.

6. What other characteristics should my legal team have?

Aside from experience and academic credentials, certain soft skills (understanding, emotional intelligence, relatability, empathy, insight, listening and care) are very important. Your legal team should be dedicated, hard-working and restless.

7. Are they restricted to a certain state or territory?

The Australian criminal law system is complex and related to either state of federal jurisdictions depending on the criminal charges and the place in which the offence(s) were committed.

Depending on the state, some require a certification or accreditation to practice law, when lawyers are admitted in a different jurisdiction.

The procedure for barristers and solicitors is slightly different, but overall there is not a strict restriction for criminal defence lawyers to practice law and represent clients in another jurisdiction within Australia.

8. Are they available 24 hours?

As apprehensions, raids and several other police actions are unexpected, and occur during the night, midnight, weekends or holidays, it is important that your criminal defence team is available for an urgent call or procedure 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

9. Is there anything to negotiate prior accusation or trial?

Ask your lawyer about the merits of your case and whether to avoid trial. Your legal team must be willing to tell you the truth instead of risking your life over senseless litigation against you.

Your potential lawyer must be able to evaluate the case and evidence and give you proper advice about a deal with the prosecution before your matter is formalised and proceeds to trial.

“Your legal team must be available for an urgent call or procedure 24 hours a day, seven days a week”

10. Can my criminal defence team negotiate deals without my consent?

N0. However, lawyers may entertain negotiations without your knowledge only on a without prejudice basis to gauge where the other side stands without revealing privileged instructions or the defence case. If this occurs it is extremely important that all these discussions are brought to your attention immediately after they have taken place.

11. What type of cases do they specialise in?

This question is fundamental for your final decision on what team to hire. Let’s assume that you are being accused of a financial crime, and you hire a firm that specialises in sexual assault and homicide defence, they are surely a great team of experts, but, this legal team does not have enough expertise to deal with the type of offence on your particular matter and therefore, are not the best suited.

Look for a lawyer or group of lawyers who know the procedure, legislation and precedents on similar cases, like the back of their hands.

12. Will the legal team find expert witnesses when needed?

Expert opinions and witnesses are capable of dismissing or giving credibility to a certain piece of evidence. Both defence lawyers as well as prosecutors depend on them to explain the scientific facts surrounding evidence.

Entire cases may be based on the scientific interpretation of evidence and events, and their testimonies often change the course of a trial and greatly influence the results. Your chosen legal team must have these experts inside the firm or readily accessible, so they can evaluate evidence providing an accurate analysis and anticipate the results.

“Expert witnesses can change the course of a trial and greatly influence the results”

13. What can my lawyer do in case I want to plead guilty?

Judges, not only in Australia but all over the world, greatly appreciate honesty, remorse, contrition, rehabilitation, collaboration, and the fact that the judicial system will not be exhausted on with an unnecessary trial. Appropriate discounts apply for early pleas of guilt.

Competent and experienced criminal defence lawyers will prepare and advise upon sentencing packs for their client seeking to plead guilty to a criminal offence or multiple offences. In short this will include a thorough and detailed assessment of court procedure, submissions, list of subjective material required and a candid opinion as to statistics and possible sentencing outcomes. Preparation for sentencing is unique to each matter.

14. What can my lawyer do in case the evidence against me is solid?

The strength of the prosecution case or “Crown Case” as often referred to will direct the conduct of the matter. The onus of proof falls on the prosecution to prove its case in criminal matters beyond reasonable doubt.

The effect of a strong prosecution case will affect the ultimate plea in your matter. Your lawyer should advise as appropriate and based their assessment of the evidence served.

Once your lawyer is satisfied that the prosecution has a strong case they must advise as such and seek your instructions to enter into negotiations with respect to pleading guilty and any available alternative charge(s).

15. Will the criminal defence team appeal on my case if needed?

In Australia your legal defence team may appeal a decision provided by a Court or Tribunal, within a certain period of time. Appeals can be exhausting, both from the monetary and chronological standpoint.

“Appeals can be exhausting, both from the monetary and chronological standpoint.”

In the event that you as a defendant, feel that your conviction or the sentence must be appealed, your team must evaluate the merit of your appeal and give you their expert opinion as to prospects before proceeding.

16. Will my lawyers break the law or lie for me?

Your criminal defence lawyers are officers of the court first and foremost, they will do everything in their power and legal capabilities to defend your case, even to the very limits of law, but never to lie or do anything illegal.

Perverting the course of justice, concealing or hindering evidence are criminal offences. Fabricating, providing advice or paying someone to provide false testimonies or declarations in your favour to corroborate your defence is completely illegal and will bring heavy consequences to those involved in such illegal actions.

“Your criminal lawyers will do everything to defend your case, but never lie or do anything illegal.”

It is strongly recommended that your lawyers stay inside the principles and procedures on criminal law.


17. What are the entire overall costs, including contingencies such as expert witnesses and appeals?

Although it is nearly impossible to set up a price for these services in the beginning, your potential candidates should provide some ground rules on billing. Your lawyer must provide a costs agreement outlining all their terms as to works to be conduct and associated hourly of fixed fees.

By having a rough estimate as well as a list of services and rates, enables defendants to choose the right lawyers for their budgets. Every person has the right to know the costs legal costs of their matter. Paralegal hourly rate, leading case lawyers’ hourly rate, or a standard monthly fee for the services of the defence team. In addition, your legal team must also provide the costs of expert witnesses and any other associated costs for your approval prior to such experts being retained.

Most lawyers will require money be deposited into their trust account before legal services begin. This generally means that your funds are held in trust pending your approval for the payment services rendered at which point those fund are transferred to your lawyer general account as payment of any invoices is issued.

18. What type of sentences am I facing?

Your legal team should inform about the jurisdiction (state or federal) and court procedure where your sentence will be imposed. They will have access to statistical data regarding outcomes of matters similar to yours however these are only guidelines. The Australian sentencing system varies according to each respective state.

In addition, your criminal defence team shall inform you about the possibilities of obtaining a reduced sentence, discounts available and the actions needed for this to happen. They should also advise about “textbook” sentences and what respective legislation calls for with respect to the requirements Judicial Officers must satisfy in order to impose an appropriate Sentence.

“You should be informed about jurisdiction and procedure.”

Getting all the important information is fundamental, so you can make an informed decision for the course of action most appropriate to you.


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