Hiring a Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer: What Every Potential Client Should Know (and Ask)

March 4, 2013 by Carl Lietz

Paul Kish and I started our federal criminal defense firm here in Atlanta over seven years ago. Before that, we were both lawyers with the Federal Defender Office here in Atlanta. Paul was a lawyer in that office for more than twenty years and I was a lawyer in that office for five years. We became friends in that office and after a while, we decided to strike out on our own.

Since starting our firm, we have been very fortunate. We have been able to do what we enjoy most: represent individuals who are facing or dealing with criminal charges in federal court. Although most of the work that we do is here in federal district court in Atlanta, we have handled federal matters in a host of other areas, including Savannah, Macon, Columbus, North Florida, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, and a number of other jurisdictions. For the most part, we handle serious white collar criminal matters. Truth be told, however, we enjoy doing anything and everything in federal court.

Lately, I have noticed that there are a number of other lawyers who are marketing themselves on the internet as federal criminal lawyers. Lawyers are, of course, free to market themselves however they choose. When I look at the backgrounds of these individuals, however, I see marketing slogans, fancy websites, and nothing more. What is also interesting (and unfortunate) is that I rarely, if ever, actually see many of these lawyers at the federal courthouse.

Let's face it; these days, it is not difficult to set up a website, make it look good, and make all sorts of bold but unsupported claims about one's abilities to handle a serious federal criminal case. To make matters even worse, national and other publications, including those like Newsweek, prey on lawyers' egos by "selecting" lawyers who are willing to pay a fee so that they can claim that they were "featured" in Newsweek. When a potential client comes along, he or she may place significance on this. In reality, though, it means nothing, except that a lawyer is willing to spend money so that he or she can make claims about being "selected" to be "featured."

Recently, I have been thinking more and more about how difficult it must be for individuals who are using the internet to find a federal criminal lawyer. It is not difficult to come up with the right search terms, but how does one know that the lawyer that he or she is speaking with is, in reality, a qualified federal criminal defense lawyer.

In my view, individuals seeking representation in a federal criminal matter not only have to ask the right questions but they must also listen carefully to the manner in which those questions are answered. Unfortunately, some lawyers are quite adept at dodging the question and answering it in a way that, on the surface, may sound good. Individuals seeking representation in a federal matter must not, however, accept surface answers; they must instead listen carefully to the answers and dig deeper when the question is avoided.

In my view, anyone seeking representation in federal court should, at a minimum, ask the following questions:

1) How many years have you been defending criminal cases in federal court?

2) In those years, how many cases have you actually defended in federal court?

3) How many jury trials have you had as a criminal defense lawyer in federal court?

4) How many sentencing hearings have you handled as lead counsel as a criminal defense lawyer in federal court?

Questions like these are a great starting point for individuals seeking representation in federal court. An experienced federal criminal will never shy away from these questions and the answers he or she gives should be plain and direct. Far too often these days, clients are getting pulled in by a fancy website and then simply calling law firms and simply asking "How much do you you charge to handle a federal case?" Those with little or no experience have no problem quoting a low fee because they either have no idea what they are doing, or they have no intention of doing the hard and time consuming work that defending a federal criminal case requires.

For those of you seeking representation, I urge you to ask the tough questions. If you do not have the funds to hire an experienced and qualified federal criminal defense lawyer, do not waste the funds you do have on someone who will do a shoddy job, and never return your call.

We are always available to discuss representation in a federal criminal matter. Feel free to give us a call if you have any questions and remember, if you are retaining a lawyer to handle a federal matter, ask the tough questions and listen carefully to the answers. Colorful websites and catchy marketing slogans may look good on the internet but they have no place in the very real world of a federal criminal case.