We get these calls pretty regularly. Defendants have an attorney, either retained or court-appointed, and they want to talk to us. Sometimes they just want a second opinion, sometimes the relationship isn’t working out, and they can’t communicate well, and sometimes they just hired a bad defense attorney. Let’s talk about when you should consider switching lawyers.
“We should have called you first”- When you hire the wrong lawyer.
People hire defense lawyers for all kinds of reasons. Often they don’t have a lot of time, or they at least feel like they don’t. People can make this decision on a google search, or a referral, or online reviews. So when do you have the wrong lawyer?
Usually, it’s when you hired someone who isn’t really a criminal lawyer. A lot of lawyers will take a criminal case, but they aren’t really criminal lawyers. They might be family or probate or civil lawyers, and they need the extra revenue so they’ll take a criminal case. Often time it’s a referral from a family member or friend. “Uncle Joe has a friend who is a lawyer,” etc. Criminal law isn’t usually heavy on the paperwork, and so people will take a case because it’s a break from their usual job of drafting contracts all day.
You can avoid hiring a non-criminal lawyer for your criminal case by doing some research on their background. You want someone who does at least 75% criminal law. If they don’t, don’t hire them. A criminal conviction can last forever, and it can cause problems decades down the road. If it’s a serious felony, I’d up the % to 100% criminal defense.
This is when people talk to us and say, “We should have called you first,” and I usually reply, “you’re here now, and that’s what matters.” The past is the past; we can only make better decisions going forward. Hiring the wrong lawyer is a mistake you need to remedy immediately.
What we have here is a failure to communicate.
The lawyer-client relationship demands robust and effective communication to be productive. Clients hate it when lawyers don’t call them back. Solo lawyers can be the worst at this, especially if they run a volume practice. A lot of solo criminal lawyers only talk to their clients in court. You should ask any lawyer you are considering hiring how to get a hold of them and how long they should expect to wait for a response. Criminal defense cases can have long periods where not much happens, especially during this pandemic. So don’t be surprised if not much happens, but you expect that your lawyer can tell you that not much is happening. Clients can also be hard to reach. They can be as bad as communicating as busy lawyers. Not answering emails or calls isn’t uncommon for defense clients either. It happens.
Some people are assholes. Lawyers and defendants can both suffer from this affliction. Just like you don’t get along with everyone you meet in life, you may not get along with your lawyer. Some clients have many ideas on their case, and they want the lawyer to agree with them. Some lawyers hate it when clients hit them with google law questions. The stress of any criminal case can strain a professional relationship. The stakes are high in criminal cases, so it’s even more important you want to work with your lawyer, and you want them to work for you.
Before you switch lawyers
Don’t tell your current lawyer you are thinking about changing attorneys. Until you have a new lawyer, you need to keep working with the one you have. It can only harm the relationship if you tell them you are shopping for new counsel. I’ve been fired a handful of times, and it was usually for the best. A client disagreed with my assessment of their case, and they wanted another take on it. Usually, it’s because another lawyer would promise something that wasn’t realistic to get the fee. But that’s a topic for another discussion.