Finding the Right Defense Attorney
As a Northern Virginia defense attorney and estate planning lawyer, I meet with people at varying points in their overarching quest to find the right attorney. Sometimes, a close friend or relative offers the information on an attorney and there is little decision-making needed. Other times, an accused person simply does not know anyone who has had to hire a defense attorney in the past, or perhaps they are new to the area and unsure where to go. I understand how for these people, this process may seem like an intimidating task. This short article is meant to help those who are looking for a criminal defense attorney in Virginia. My hope is that it will:
- save readers hours of time;
- allow some individuals to avoid needless anxiety; and,
- reduce the risks inherent to waiting too long to begin searching.
In writing this post, I put myself in the shoes of a defendant who is contemplating where to find the best defense attorney for their needs, and how to even start the process.
The three methods I describe below can be used either alone or together, and in any order. Each method represents a broad strategy, and you will find links to various helpful resources in each section.
3 Ways Anyone Can Quickly Find a Great Criminal Defense Attorney
But first…assess whether or not there is even a need for a Virginia defense attorney
If no need exists (for a defense attorney), then you would not be embarking upon a search. If you are reading this, you likely already have realized there is a need. But if you are on the fence, consider these quick points:
- It is a good idea to have a professional defense attorney handle the case from the beginning, because conviction will remain on a record forever and is nearly impossible to expunge at a later time.
- If you would like to explore options before your name is called, only a defense attorney can negotiate with both officers and prosecutors.
- If money is an issue, many Virginia defense attorneys offer flat-fees, free consultations, and installment plans.
- Most people know how serious a felony charge is. But even misdemeanors can lead to unforeseen consequences, including increased insurance costs, loss of driving privileges employment difficulties, damage to reputation, and thousands of dollars in fines and court costs.
- There may be issues after the case is over which are best resolved by a professional defense attorney. Examples include: applying for a restricted license; petitioning a court for reinstatement of a license; appealing within the proper time frame; and, making certain post-trial motions, to name just a few.
- There are many sentencing alternatives in Virginia, and an experienced criminal lawyer can guide a client and make arrangements for a program suited to his or her needs.
After assessing the need for a defense attorney, it is time to begin the process of finding the right one for you.
1. Finding a Defense Attorney Using a Lawyer Referral Service
Contact your county bar association, or check their website for something called a legal (or lawyer) referral service. This does not only apply to a search for a defense attorney, but to legal professionals in all practice areas. Many counties and some cities in Virginia have bar associations, which are organizations made up of local attorneys, judges, and other legal professionals. Try the following search term:
Seattle lawyer referral service
Here is an example for those who are looking for a defense attorney in Fairfax:
Advantages of using a lawyer referral service to find a defense attorney
Lawyers and Clients are Matched
The defense attorneys listed by referral services are vetted and approved by their local bar associations. For example, Fairfax requires submission of a somewhat lengthy application indicating experience, service areas, and other important pieces of information used to match up people like you with the right defense attorney.
Eliminates Cost Uncertainty
In many jurisdictions, the legal referral service requires participating defense attorneys to agree to a set low fee for the initial meeting. This is comforting to many people, who may have been under the impression that they could not even afford to talk to a lawyer.
Caveat: as a Fairfax criminal lawyer and Northern Virginia defense attorney, I only can speak for Northern Virginia…but these days, more and more firms (including our defense firm, Vincenzes Law, PLLC), offer free consultations. The low meeting fee is however, a necessary part of the legal referral service process, because the service is in charge of matching potential clients with legal professionals willing to meet and possibly help them. It would hurt everyone involved if the service could be abused by people who are looking for free legal advice with absolutely no intention to hire an attorney.
Disadvantages of using a lawyer referral service to find a defense attorney
As mentioned previously, many defense attorneys offer free consultations. Although the fee for meeting with a lawyer through the legal referral service may be low, there is a risk that the attorney is not right for you. If this happens, you will have to find another lawyer to meet with. The obvious consequence is that you will have to pay another (albeit) small fee, or find a lawyer some other way who offers a free consultation. Regardless, it may be risky if you wait too long (e.g., if the court date is only a few day away). If you have waited this long, try to immediately schedule a consultation with two or three lawyers. Waiting so long is not a good idea, because typically a defense attorney‘s schedule fills weeks before any given date. Thus, it may take many calls just to find a couple firms able to meet on short notice.
2. How to Find a Defense Attorney Using Avvo.com
Avvo.com is a great tool, both for defense attorneys and people looking for one. It not only is a way to find a listing of local defense attorneys, but enables users to ask attorneys questions. While it is not a good idea to ask a question that includes confidential or private information, there are many ways to phrase a legal question and still get a helpful reply. Defense attorneys who are members of Avvo.com will reply to your question (often 3 or 4 will reply within a couple of days). This gives you an idea of the lawyer’s knowledge, general willingness go out of his or her way to help others, and also allows the user to click on the defense attorney‘s profile to find out more information about that lawyer.
Advantages when looking for a defense attorney
Avvo allows users to ask local attorneys questions for free. That should be enough to prompt anyone to give it a whirl, but it does not stop there. Once an attorney has responded to a question, you can click on their profile to learn about their practice. Most defense attorneys these days have websites, and you can typically access their website via their profile. You can also find contact information including a direct email button, phone number, and address. Some lawyers go the extra mile and include pictures, videos, and detailed descriptions.
I routinely answer criminal defense and estate planning questions from people in Northern Virginia.
Within the past 2-3 months (from mid-November, 2013):
- I have answered 200 legal questions
- 18 lawyers endorsed me
- 2 clients left reviews
In the last 30 days:
- 5,714 people viewed my profile
- 10 people contacted me to inquire about my firm’s criminal defense services
No service is perfect, and sometimes lawyers answer questions very generically. For example, instead of providing a detailed response, I have noticed a few lawyers who regularly leave a reply that only tells the person asking the question to consult an attorney. While this is not a bad thing to say, it may turn people off, or make them feel as if they have wasted their time.
Another thing I personally do not love is the rating system. You will notice that each lawyer is rated. Even though I am rated, “Very Good,” I have seen other lawyers who are rated as average when in fact they are superb.
3. Using Logic to Find a Virginia Defense Attorney
Using logic to find a defense attorney means using the obvious tried and true methods. Two methods come to mind, and one outdated method is worth mentioning.
Using a Phone Book to Find a Defense Attorney: Outdated in my Opinion
I say this because it is one of the ways people traditionally found a defense attorney‘s contact information in years gone by. But these days, the phone book is a comparatively limited medium because there is only so much space for a firm or defense attorney to include information about their practice. This is a perfect segue into the first logical method…the internet.
Using a Search Engine (the Internet) to Find a Defense Attorney
I get most of my clients through word-of-mouth referrals. I do not think this will ever change, because for whatever reason, people love telling other people about good experiences they have had with a defense attorney. That said, the internet is a way for people to learn a lot about a lawyer and law firm. I estimate I get about 10-20 calls each week from people who have stumbled across my website using a search engine. I suggest searching for a lawyer using the following terms (assuming you are looking for a defense attorney):
Seattle criminal lawyer
If you live in a relatively small city or town within a larger county, I suggest you search for your county, followed by “criminal lawyer.” You do not necessarily need to include the word, “county,” though.
Search engine algorithms take into account many factors when determining how to rank a particular law firm. But from what I have seen, and in my own experience, the firms with the most up-to-date, helpful, and expansive information and websites are ranked high. This gives the searcher an idea as to which firms are actively publishing content related to criminal law.
Example of a Google search, “Fairfax criminal lawyer”
It is important to recognize where the actual search results are located. There are many paid ads surrounding the true search results. My firm is currently (as of November 12, 2013) ranked first, and it is likely a result of the large volume of helpful content we have made available to the public.
Asking Friends, Family, People in-the-loop
This is one of the best ways to find a defense attorney, and it will remain so for all of time. Word-of-mouth is a great way to get real, credible advice as far as who to contact. But do not only limit yourself to asking friends and family. If you have to go to court for an initial hearing (e.g,. an arraignment), then you may not have a lawyer at that time. The employees behind the court services and criminal division desks and kiosks are very helpful, and may be worth asking who they might recommend.
If you are facing a charge in a Northern Virginia county or city, we would be happy to help. If we are not able to help due to a schedule conflict or for some other reason, we will do our best to put you in touch with someone we trust and who may be able to help. This illustrates my final point: if you do not feel comfortable with the first lawyer you meet with, do not be afraid to ask him or her for a referral. Most of us Virginia criminal defense attorneys are happy to share with people a handful of other lawyer’s who we would highly recommend. To reach my firm, you may call:
703.665.3719 – or, feel free to leave us a message online.
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