Getting started as a criminal defense attorney: some tips
It is a time marked by both emotion and apprehension. I clearly remember the day I graduated and even though I was only 24, I have seen a common reaction from law graduates regardless of age.
The biggest benefit I got after graduation was my one-year articulation period. Criminal lawyers are usually lone wolves. Unlike civil litigants who practice in groups and firms, a criminal attorney is usually a unique professional, either practicing alone or in a cost-sharing arrangement with other criminal attorneys who are also independent professionals. This has its advantages and disadvantages. If you have an articulated term in your jurisdiction, don’t waste it. Do some research and send resumes only to criminal lawyers, and only to those who practice as independent professionals because they are the ones from whom you will get the most personalized attention.
I learned a lot from my articulation principle. I stuck to him like glue; went to court with him, stayed up late when he did, got to the office early when he did. I learned not only how he practiced criminal law, but also how the business of practicing law operated. After articulating, there was the bar admission course (six months) during which I worked part time for him. After they called me at the bar, he offered me a job and I worked for him for another year. Then an office became available in his suite and I established my own practice, in a cost-sharing partnership with him. After three more years, I rented my own space and started my own cost-sharing association. But I never believed that anything else was a more important start to my practice than my year of articulation.
If you don’t have that in your jurisdiction, try the next best option. Try to get a job with a reputable senior criminal attorney who is a unique practitioner and sticks to him / her like a glue. It is important that you choose carefully who you work for. The greatest asset of a criminal lawyer is his ethical reputation and, therefore, his credibility. That lasts for a long time. So look for an attorney with a good and solid ethical reputation. He / she will teach you how to practice that way and how to develop your own credibility in the field. Another benefit is that you will have an advantage in that area only by virtue of having worked for a reputable and well-known criminal lawyer. After you’ve worked in that capacity for 1 to 3 years, you can consider yourself ready to hang your own tile.
My second tip is to join and actively participate in your local Criminal Lawyers Association and other professional bar associations. I discovered early on that lawyers who practice well and have a good reputation tend to spend about 25% of their time on professional activities. Not only do you learn a lot from the best of your field of practice, but you also gain access to the best CLE (continuing legal education) programs. If you have a Young Lawyers Division, join it too. I was quite active in that regard, especially in the first 7 years of my practice. It is also very nice and gives you a good break from the daily stress of running your business. It is a social outlet and a great learning opportunity. You will find that senior attorneys who enjoy what they do also enjoy teaching junior attorneys what they do. You will get very good mentors.
My third tip is that you enjoy what you are doing. Try not to succumb to the financial burden of starting a practice accepting all types of cases and all types of clients. Personally, I think it’s worth sacrificing for revenue rather than addressing cases where you don’t like the client or the work that represents that client entails. If you refuse to take a case, make sure you can provide the client with a referral to another criminal attorney whom they respect and trust. Do not ask for or accept a referral fee. He / she will appreciate the referral and you will develop a referral network that can be a good source of business.
Fourth, if a particular case generally involves 10 hours of preparation, dedicate 20. (In fact, I continue to do so even after 20 years of practice). It makes you look good when you know the facts coolly, you know the case law related to a particular situation well, and you can stand up and answer the judge’s questions without looking down. In particular, it will catch everyone off guard because it is just getting started. You look green, you sound green, but you behave like a seasoned professional.
Fifth, you may be thinking about internet marketing and that may be of some benefit. However, you will find that most of your practice will develop from referrals from previous clients. If you really put everything in contact and preparation with the client, your clients will see that you work hard and if they have friends who need you, they will send them to you. Don’t underestimate the importance of maintaining good customer relationships. Don’t wait for the client to call you and ask, “How is my case?” Start a call at least once a month (once a week if you have time), let them know what’s going on, say hello. That will set you apart from your competitors. If a customer calls and leaves a message, please call back as quickly as possible. They will be impressed. I get it all the time, “Wow, that was quick.”
In my early days, there was no email. Now I reserve some time for Friday afternoon and send a short email to all my clients (it doesn’t take as long as you might initially think):
“Hello John (or Mr. Smith). I just thought I would contact you and let you know that I am still waiting for an exceptional revelation from the Crown. I will go to court next week and put some pressure on the Crown to get this case moving for you. Once you receive all the missing items, you and I should meet and review the next step. What is your schedule like during the week? “
Developing a relationship with mentors, colleagues, and clients is not only beneficial to your business, but it also makes the practice of law enjoyable. You will find that you will go home to your family and tell them what a good day you had, rather than what kind of stressful day you had. A genuine smile also lets clients, judges, and juries know that you are confident and competent.
In my experience, Crown Attorneys are generally very good; very professional, very competent and a pleasure to deal with an opponent on and off the court. They will respect you if you stand firm, having investigated and are not reticent when judging a case or a constitutional argument that is fairly well founded.
Every now and then, you may come across a crown that is not. When I am in court, I find that the best way to deal with them is:
- Always respond to your arguments or objections by addressing the judge, not the Crown;
- Speak at a volume level slightly lower than the Crown;
- Be short and direct, avoiding drama, even if the Crown is dramatic; Y,
- Be very nice, even if the Crown is not.
This approach will contrast you and have the effect of emphasizing the negative aspects of your opposing attorney. Avoid making sarcastic or caustic comments when responding to your opposing attorney. It is your professionalism that will triumph.
Copyright © 2011 Steven Tress, Attorney and Solicitor. All rights reserved throughout the world.