What’s the first thing you do when you want to know more about someone? You head to Google. Considering how important a criminal defense lawyer is to your present and future, you’ll likely do the same when deciding whom to hire. But how much credence should you give online reviews?
Public information is an invaluable resource when it comes to choosing a lawyer. Many state bar associations have attorney-search functions on their websites. For example, on the California State Bar website (www.calbar.ca.gov), there’s an “Attorney Search” box. You can look up a lawyer by entering his or her last name. Up pops a profile of that lawyer, showing a variety of information, including contact information, the status of the lawyer’s license to practice law, the lawyer’s education, and how long the lawyer has been licensed.
Of crucial importance on these kinds of sites are sections indicating whether the lawyer has ever been in trouble with the bar association or government. You can often find a summary of any disciplinary action taken against the lawyer. Needless to say, you should approach lawyers with disciplinary records carefully. You should assure yourself that the lawyer has been “rehabilitated,” that he or she is now both ethical and competent.
When researching a lawyer online, you’ll undoubtedly come across sites that provide attorney reviews, and even attorney rating systems. While these sites might have helpful information, keep in mind that all it takes is a disgruntled client or adversary (almost all lawyers have them) to sour an attorney’s electronic reputation. Informal opinion surveys are often more valuable. For example, consider whether you know any lawyers who practice in the community. What do they have to say about the lawyer? Do you have any friends or acquaintances who have used the lawyer’s services? What do they have to say?
Ultimately, what’s most important in determining whether to hire a lawyer is your interaction with him or her. The lawyer should seem trustworthy, experienced, and skilled. Also important is determining whether that lawyer seems willing to devote whatever time and resources your case requires.