Some Basic Issues when looking for and Dealing with a Criminal Lawyer

Mar 26, 2014 By Matthew Friedberg

Sometimes you need to hire a criminal defence lawyer. Either you or someone close to you has a problem with the law. Most often this involves a person being charged with a criminal offence.

If a person has a legal complication with some governmental agency or department the first order of business is to determine if you need legal help. Some problems are quite simple and can be managed without legal help; for example, a parking ticket.

Other legal offences will require legal help. If you have decided you need the legal help of a criminal defence lawyer, there are some basic issues you need to consider.

While some of these suggestions seem obvious, common sense often goes out the window when hiring a criminal lawyer. People often feel vulnerable, uniformed and desperate when facing charges.

Does the lawyer actually practice criminal law?

Sometimes a lawyer will take a case either intentionally or unintentionally without having the expertise for the case. Sometimes cases develop as they go along and become more complicated than the lawyer initially expected and a good lawyer will come to recognize this and ask for help from colleagues or refer the case to other lawyers. However, although he shouldn't, a lawyer might take on a case he has no background in. Be careful when choosing a lawyer. Does he have experience in criminal law? Is his practice restricted to criminal cases or does he take whatever case walks through the door?

Bear this in mind: the law has become extremely complicated. Most lawyers are now specialists and practice in certain areas only.

If you need a criminal lawyer make sure you are hiring one. Ask the lawyer what areas of law he practices. Go on the Internet and see if the lawyer has a website and see how he markets himself. Ask people you know if they can refer you to a criminal lawyer they have had a positive experience with.

A word of warming here: everyone knows a lawyer. Most people know or have heard of a criminal lawyer. Other than knowing a name, these people might know nothing else. This is not a good referral. This is name dropping. A good referral would be from a person who has used the criminal lawyer before or knows people who has and had a positive experience with the lawyer. Please note: this doesn't always mean the lawyer "won" the case. It means they felt the lawyer did a good job for them in the circumstances of their case.

Does the lawyer make promises?

A criminal lawyer should not be making promises of a result whether it is about bail, winning the case or a sentence. Our law is too unpredictable and based on too many unknowns to guarantee outcomes. Instead, a lawyer should give you an honest and realistic prediction of what he expects based on the facts of the case and his experience. Like anything else in life, if it's too good to be true, it probably is.


Be clear with the lawyer about money. Criminal lawyers call this the "retainer" which is just another word for their fees. What is the nature of the retainer? Is it an hourly fee or a service fee? What are the services you are hiring the lawyer to provide?

Most criminal lawyers will want the retainer up front. Unlike other lawyers and professionals criminal lawyers will not usually perform the work and then send you a bill. Do not be put off by this or take as a personal insult or comment on your character or trustworthiness.


Your lawyer should be accessible. He should take your calls and return your calls promptly. He should keep you fully informed of your case. You might not be happy with the charges you are facing or the evidence against you, but you should be content with the help you are getting. If the lawyer is not accessible, talk to him and try to work out an understanding that suits both of you. If the problem persists, find another lawyer who is accessible.

Accepting cases

A lawyer is not required to accept your case. There are a variety of reasons why he might decline yours. If he does, move on until you find one who does.

Is it me or him?

An unspoken rule amongst lawyers is this: the more lawyers you have gone through in the past, the less likely he will want you as a client. The reason is simple. If you were a lawyer and a client came to see you and the client had already hired and fired 3,4 or 5 lawyers wouldn't you see this as a red flag? Most lawyers would consider you and your case more trouble than it's worth. If you have been though several lawyers already, you might want to reflect upon whom or what is the problem. Are your expectations unreasonable or too high? If you had nothing to do with the breakdown of your past relationships with your past 5 lawyers in the past 10 months, you must have some very bad luck with choosing a lawyer. (That's sarcasm for anyone who didn't get that).

Listen to your lawyer

You went to him because he is the expert and you need advice and guidance. If you didn't, you'd represent yourself. You don't need to follow his advice, but if you don't, why are you paying him?

Money again

Criminal lawyers are like anyone else. There are good ones and not so good ones. There may be little correlation between the amount of money they request for their retainer and the job they do. So do your research. Get quotes from other lawyers and compare them. You'd do this if you had to put a new roof on your house; this is even a more important decision. As discussed above, do your research and ask lots of questions. However, be careful - you get what you pay for. A lawyer giving you a bargain basement price may be a warning sign. On the other hand, there is a point of diminishing returns too. If you feel like you are paying exorbitant fees when other lawyers want much less for the same case, you very well may be. Again, a lot of this is common sense - something that can be in short supply when facing the stress of a criminal case.

Give your lawyer all the information

Just because you don't consider something relevant doesn't mean the lawyer doesn't. Don't be selective with information. A good rule of thumb is to answer your lawyer's questions honestly and thoroughly. Assume he knows what he's doing and is asking a question for a reason and not to make small talk. Lawyers are generally very deliberate and purposive with their questions.

If you are hiring a lawyer for someone else

You might be paying for your child's spouse's, relative's, etc. lawyer. If this is the case you must understand that you are not the client. The person who is getting the lawyer's assistance is. Just because you are paying the bill does not make you entitled to information of a confidential or privileged nature between the client and the lawyer. The solicitor-client relationship is sacrosanct. You are not entitled to be a part if it merely because you are footing the bill. The lawyer works for the client, not you. The lawyer is answerable to the client, not you. The lawyer is not allowed to discuss the case with you without the clients consent. Do not take it personally. I hope this article will help you if you ever have to choose and deal with a criminal lawyer.

Caramanna Friedberg LLP

This article is not intended as legal advice but informational purposes only. If you need a criminal lawyer or legal advice Contact us today.

Caramanna Friedberg LLP

Articling Lawyer Firm Toronto (Criminal Attorney)


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