Okay, so I finally got around to downloading and reading Miami criminal-defense lawyer Brian Tannebaum’s e-book, The Truth About Hiring a Criminal Defense Lawyer. (After Brian asked me to review it, I found it by googling the title; I was pleased to see Defending People pop up in the first page of search results.)
Subtitled, “The whole truth and nothing but the truth, and not the ‘truth that will lead you to hire me.’”, this little book covers much the first-time accused needs to know to have at least a fighting chance of hiring competent counsel, in six chapters entitled:
- Money (forget about your money problems, and get the money; hire a lawyer you feel comfortable with, who charges more money than you wanted to spend);
- Advertising (advertising works; don’t fall for it);
- Prior Results (no two cases are the same);
- Expertise / Types of Criminal Defense Lawyers (“murder is a six-figure word”);
- “Former Prosecutors” (if you choose to hire an ex-prosecutor, make sure it’s for his defense experience); and
- Connections (we all know the judges, and the prosecutors, and probably the cops; none of them are going to sell out).
In the process of educating the public, Brian gives away some of the family secrets. For example:
Do not ever call a lawyer you are thinking of hiring and ask how much he charges. He will immediately think you are cheap, broke, and that you will waste his time in a consultation. On that note, don’t ever ask if there’s a consultation fee. That’s like saying “you’re not going to ask me for $500 are you?” A client who has a problem with $500 is again, perceived as cheap, broke, and a waste of a lawyer’s time.
There is one conspicuous absence from Brian’s book: “high-profile lawyers”. Many an accused goes shopping for a lawyer armed with the delusive belief that his case is a high-profile (“high-pub”, in the argot) case and that he needs a lawyer who specializes in such cases. Some lawyers even make this part of their schtick (observe the page title). In my experience, the vast majority of people who think their cases are high-profile are engaged in egoistical wishful thinking: “if it’s so important to me, it must be important to everyone else.”
Those who are actually accused in high-profile cases, by contrast, are desperately seeking someone who can get them out of the spotlight, and those lawyers who have handled high-pub cases and have their clients’ best interests at heart would rather help the stories drop off the news than see their own names in the paper. I’d like to see Brian address that.
The practice of criminal defense law is a little different everywhere. In Florida, according to Brian, about 3% of DUI cases go to trial; in Texas, where DUI (which Texas law calls DWI) is a serious crime for which an accused has a right to a jury trial, and especially in Harris County, where there is essentially no plea bargaining in DUI cases, that number ought to be a lot higher. (I don’t know if it is, but it should be — almost all first DUI/DWI cases should be tried.)
In Texas, where it’s all about the jury trial, “how often do you go to trial” would be a good question to ask the prospective criminal-defense lawyer.
Those minor quibbles aside, Brian provides an excellent introduction to the task of hiring a criminal-defense lawyer. I recommend it to anyone looking to hire his first criminal-defense lawyer. Or his second, though getting the right lawyer after you’ve already hired the wrong one is much more costly than getting it right the first time.