Always meet the lawyer in-person before making a decision to hire (or not).
This is the person in whom you are entrusting your future or the future of a family member or friend. It’s okay to ask detailed questions about any concern you may have. Even before you’ve hired a lawyer communications made during the process of determining whether to do so are to be held in the strictest of confidence. Make sure you are comfortable communicating with the lawyer, and more importantly, whether the lawyer is knowledgeable and comfortable communicating with you and answering your questions. Often there is no fee charged for the first meeting.
Some firms use a version of “bait and switch” by having an experienced lawyer participate in the first meeting, but then assigning the case to a less experienced or less proficient attorney. Ask who it is that will actually be representing you and whether that lawyer will be the lawyer who actually shows up in court, writes your motions and negotiates on your behalf with the prosecutor or police.
Always get a written fee contract that spells out what the criminal defense attorney will do and how much will be charged for the representation.
The fee contract should also detail the type of fee charged, (flat fee or hourly rate), the scope of representation (what work the lawyer will perform), whether there will be additional costs for investigators, expert witnesses or other expenses, and what will happen if there is a dispute over fees or the quality of representation performed.
Do not discuss fees or scope of representation with a non-lawyer employee. Some firms have a non-lawyer set the fee and present the fee contract to the client before any meeting with a lawyer occurs. This means that the fee quoted is likely not tailored to the specific problems presented by your case or worse, that a non-lawyer who has no experience actually defending a case is analyzing the cost of your case.
The lawyer should quote a fee only after learning something about your case. Hiring a lawyer is not like buying a product at a store. There are many variables that go into determining an appropriate fee. A good lawyer will want to know as much about the case as is feasible before quoting a reasonably accurate fee. It’s okay to ask the lawyer about the types of defenses that might be raised for you, how much experience the lawyer has defending the type of problems presented by your case, and the results obtained in similar cases.
Ask if the lawyer is a Board Certified Criminal Law Specialist.
This means that the lawyer has passed an exam administered by the State Bar of Arizona and possesses an acceptable level of experience (including trial and motion hearings) practicing Arizona criminal defense. You can also ask whether the lawyer has been rated by any of the peer-reviewed lawyer rating services like Martindale-Hubbell or The Center for Law and Politics. High ratings for ethics and professional competence from well-established ratings services are a good indicator of the lawyer’s status in the local legal community.