Of all the legal matters you can face in your life, being charged with a crime is probably the most serious. This is not the time to just choose any old lawyer who claims to handle criminal cases. You want to choose someone with the knowledge necessary to mount a proper defense. If you have been charged with a crime in Virginia, here are some considerations for choosing the right attorney for your needs.
Check Standing with the State Bar Association
All lawyers in Virginia must be a member of the Virginia State Bar, which falls under the agency of the Supreme Court of Virginia. As a member of this association, lawyers in the state are held to very specific standards of conduct. You should check the standing of any potential attorney to make sure that, first, they are part of the association, and secondly, that they are in good standing.
Use Referral Services with Caution
There are many different referral services that can match you up with a criminal defense attorney in Virginia. But, you should exercise caution. The qualifications to get listed can vary greatly, and some ‘’preferred’’ attorneys may only be so because they simply paid for the privilege. Some may simply list lawyers who are actively part of the state bar association (which does not say much about competence and experience), while others have more stringent requirements.
The Virginia State Bar offers the Virginia Lawyer Referral Service, or VLRS, which refers you to an appropriate lawyer after gathering specific information about your case; if you happen to not need a lawyer, but another type of service for your problem, the referral specialists can also help you with that. If they do refer you to an attorney, it is your responsibility to make contact—the lawyer will not get in touch with you. There is no obligation to use the services of this attorney should you meet with them for an initial consultation.
Membership in the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
When choosing a lawyer for any legal need, those who are members of legal organizations specific to the area of law you are dealing with are always a good idea. This suggests a high level of knowledge and commitment to this practice area. When it comes to finding a lawyer to defend you against criminal charges in VA, it is a good idea to choose one who is a member of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The VACDL is very active in lobbying for legislation to protect the rights of people accused of crimes; it offers mentoring services to help lawyers develop their skills. Any lawyer who is a member of this association will have a high level of competence and will be able to mount a strong defense for your case.
Another consideration in choosing your lawyer is cost—while a good lawyer is not necessarily the most expensive one, this is not the time to bargain-hunt. As for the consultation, there may be a fee—any lawyers referred to you through the VLRS cannot charge more than 35 dollars for an initial consultation. It is probably not a good idea to go with a lawyer who charges an hourly fee—there are lots of moving parts to a criminal defense case and a lawyer’s time is highly valuable. It is more common to work on a retainer system, where you pay the attorney a set amount of money for his services—this retainer may need to be replenished as the lawyer continues to work on your case. Some lawyers may be willing to work your case for reduced fees if necessary, or if your case is particularly compelling, may do it pro bono. If you cannot afford a lawyer at all, you can use a public defender.
Kelli Cooper is a freelance writer who covers a range of legal topics; if you are in need of legal services for DUI or other driving offenses in VA, click here to learn how the Chucker & Reibach law firm can help.