No one wants to schedule a meeting with a criminal defense lawyer. Having to defend against criminal charges is not something people look forward to. On top of worrying about the potential penalties of a conviction, including the impact it will have on your personal and professional life, you now have to worry about retaining and paying a criminal defense lawyer. While the talented and experienced attorneys at the Appleton public defender’s office are available for those who can’t afford a lawyer, their caseload leaves little room to prepare a compressive and personalized defense to your charges. Further, the public defender’s office is not obligated to assist you beyond the first appeal and generally does not provide post-conviction assistance.
If you’re looking to hire a private criminal defense attorney in Appleton, look for the following five qualities to ensure you’re receiving the best available defense.
1. Practice Areas & Professional Reputation
When looking for a criminal defense attorney in Appleton, especially for felony charges, hire a law firm that primarily offers criminal defense services. There are many general practice firms in Appleton, but this is not the same as hiring a firm that exclusively practices criminal defense law. Review the firm’s practice areas online or ask them what percentage of its caseload is criminal. Firms that primarily practice criminal law tend to have specialized resources such as private investigators and knowledge designed to maximize your defense. You don’t have to hire the first criminal defense attorney you speak with. Not every defense lawyer in Appleton has the professional reputation necessary to hold his own in Appleton criminal court. Use the following resources to gage any potential defense lawyer’s professionalism before signing a retainer agreement:
- The Wisconsin State Bar – You can search for an attorney by name to verify his/her bar status and check for any malpractice/disciplinary findings.
- The Appleton Public Defender’s Office – Even if you’re not utilizing the public defender, they often work hand-in-hand with private criminal defense firms in Appleton. Their attorneys will know the reputation of criminal defense lawyers in the area and may direct you to an experienced Appleton criminal defense lawyer with a professional reputation.
- Firm Websites & Online Reviews – This is always a good starting point when gaging an attorney’s reputation. Be sure to look at all the reviews before drawing conclusions, and don’t be afraid to ask an attorney about negative reviews or to elaborate on positive testimonials.
Word of mouth is important, but it’s not the only thing you should consider when looking for a criminal defense lawyer in Appleton.
2. Organization & Communication Procedures
Lack of communication is the number one bar complaint filed against lawyers in the United States. Communication failures are often due to lack of organization within a firm, but such delays during criminal defense proceedings are exacerbated considering the stakes. When you walk into a firm, look for a clean and organized office. Listen to how the phone is answered and how quickly and professionally your calls and emails are returned. If the firm is struggling to return phone calls or messages while trying to market itself, it will only get worse after signing a retainer. Further, if emails contain grammatical errors or the attorney seems disorganized, he or she will likely come across as such to Appleton judges.
3. Transparency in Billing Practices
Criminal defense attorneys generally charge by the hour, and you typically have to pay for a certain number of hours in advance. This is called a retainer and can range from $1,000 to $100,000 depending on the severity of the criminal charges. Defense attorneys’ rates also vary depending on their experience and case complexity. In less complex cases, attorneys may charge a “flat fee” for their services. Defendants pleading guilty may only pay a flat fee for assistance during plea negotiations. Always review the following with a criminal defense attorney (and ensure the same is reflected in writing) before signing a retainer agreement:
- Hourly rate or flat fee amount
- Retainer amount, if any
- Payment methods accepted, i.e., credit, check, cash
- Payment plans available
- Billing practices, i.e., monthly or weekly invoices
- Allocation of fees and costs
- Third-party billing arrangements and procedures, i.e., if the defendant isn’t paying the bill
In the American criminal justice system, even acquitted defendants are not reimbursed or entitled to attorneys’ fees. It’s important to weigh these financial obligations accordingly. If you believe you can’t afford a private criminal defense attorney, you can always avail yourself to the public defender’s office. However, many Appleton criminal defense firms take a certain number of cases pro bono each year. Most bars require this, and it never hurts to ask about pro bono or reduced rate defensive services before speaking with the public defender.
4. Scope of Representation
Reviewing the scope of the representation in a retainer agreement goes hand-in-hand when discussing billing practices. Some criminal defense attorneys will only quote a price through trial, and your representation won’t cover necessary appeals or post-relief petitions. Read these agreements carefully, and don’t be afraid to have them reviewed by another criminal defense lawyer before signing the retainer.
5. Experience & Familiarity with the Local Court System
Most importantly, make sure your criminal defense attorney has actually defended similar cases before local Appleton judges. Knowing the personality and practice preferences of local judges can drastically increase the judge’s positive perception of the defense team. It’s also important to retain an Appleton criminal defense lawyer with success defending against the specific crimes you’ve been charged with. A lawyer who specializes in defending against allegations of sex crimes is probably not the best choice to defend against complex white-collar financial charges. Ask about the attorney’s familiarity defending against your class of charges, his success rate, and his understanding of any case law related to the crime.
Call Us Today to Schedule a Free Case Evaluation with a Criminal Defense Attorney in Appleton
At Hogan Eickhoff, our top-rated Appleton criminal defense lawyers prepare a compressive defense to criminal charges during every stage of the proceedings. Whether it’s protecting your professional reputation from unfounded sexual misconduct allegations or your family from the collateral consequences of felony charges, we’re on your side at Hogan Eickhoff. Contact the experienced and professional Appleton criminal defense lawyers at (920) 450-9800 or online today for your free, confidential case review and criminal defense consultation.