How to Work Effectively With Your Criminal Defense Attorney


Most people who are charged with criminal offenses benefit, often significantly, from being represented by a criminal defense lawyer. By hiring a lawyer early in the process of a criminal case, and through some simple steps after hiring a lawyer, a defendant will be able to maximize the benefit of the lawyer's services.

Hire a Criminal Defense Lawyer Early

Some of the best opportunities for effective criminal defense work arise at the earliest stages of a case. If you consult with a criminal defense attorney before charges are filed, or at the earliest opportunity after an arrest, you may be able to position yourself for a better resolution.

  • Negotiating for a Dismissal - If there is a problem with the case that is being brought against you that will affect the state's ability to prosecute the case, a criminal defense attorney may be able to contact the prosecutor before charges are authorized, explain the problem with the case, and secure a dismissal of the charge before the case begins. A dismissal becomes more difficult to obtain after charges are filed, as the charges may be authorized by a different attorney than the one handling the file, the case will be progressing through the court system, there may be media coverage or increased media attention, and a prosecutor might prefer to see how the case plays out through that system instead of offering a quick resolution.

  • Avoiding Policy Issues - Some prosecutor's offices have "no plea bargain" policies for certain charges. Once those charges are authorized by the prosecutor, it can be extremely difficult to convince a prosecutor to deviate from the policy. However, if a criminal defense attorney contacts the prosecutor before the charge is authorized, it may be possible to arrange for a charge with does not implicate a department policy, and leaves the prosecutor with greater flexibility to plea bargain.

  • Negotiating a Favorable Plea Bargain - Even when charges are valid, it is sometimes possible for a criminal defense attorney to speak with a prosecutor before charges are formally authorized, and to work out a deal whereby a client will enter a guilty plea to a specified charge, perhaps with an associated agreement as to the sentence recommendation that the prosecutor will make. Once charges are formally filed, prosecutors often base their plea bargain offers on the pending charge and it may be difficult or impossible to obtain a better than normal deal.

  • Assisting the Police or Prosecutor - If you have information or evidence that may help the police or prosecuting attorney in other cases, you may be able to arrange to offer that evidence or to otherwise work with the police in ongoing criminal investigations. Such cooperation will often help a defendant at sentencing, and may also be helpful to obtain a good plea bargain or in some cases an agreement that charges won't be filed. Working through a lawyer can help ensure that you will be safe during any work you do with the police, and that you get the promised benefit at the conclusion of your service.

Help Your Lawyer Help You

If you recognize the role of your lawyer, follow your lawyer's advice, and exercise your constitutional right to remain silent, you are likely to have a more effective working relationship with your lawyer while avoiding complications that could make your defense difficult or more expensive.

  • Exercise Your Right to Remain Silent - Sometimes people who are charged with criminal offenses, or who believe they might be charged with crimes, are eager to share their side of the story with anybody who will listen, including the police. Their statements are often used by the prosecution at a later date to help convict the person. The only person who needs to hear your side of the story is your criminal defense attorney.

  • Let Your Lawyer Manage Your Case - When you work with your criminal defense attorney, there are certain things you can do which are helpful, and others that are not. Follow your lawyer's instructions, and let your lawyer choose the defense strategy. If you are concerned about your lawyer's directions or choices, discuss your concerns with your lawyer.

  • Give Your Lawyer the Opportunity to Speak - Perhaps out of nerves or simply as a matter of personality, some people tend to speak in long, drawn-out narratives that don't give the other party to the conversation an easy opportunity to respond without interrupting. If you find yourself talking in that manner during a conversation with your lawyer, try to rein yourself in. Give your lawyer the opportunity to respond to what you are saying. Don't take offense and be cooperative if your attorney tries respond to your comments before you're done talking, or attempts to redirect your thoughts to matters relevant to your criminal charge and defense.

  • Listen To Your Lawyer's Questions - When your attorney asks you a question, listen to what your attorney is saying, and try to provide a clear, concise answer to your attorney's questions.

  • Do Not Interrupt Your Lawyer - If your lawyer is asking you a question or trying to explain an issue of law or procedure, listen until your lawyer is done. You will almost certainly end up with a better understanding of your situation and legal rights after you permit your lawyer to finish speaking.

  • Provide a Clear Account - When you explain your situation to your lawyer, try to provide a clear, concise, chronological account of the relevant events.

  • Provide Concise Answers - When your lawyer asks you a question, try to provide a short, complete answer. At the same time, don't hesitate to provide additional explanation after providing that concise answer. Your criminal defense attorney needs to understand all of the relevant facts and circumstances of your case, but let your attorney be the guide to the most relevant facts and issues, and recognize that when your attorney is asking a question it is because the attorney deems the answer important to your defense.

  • Provide Information About Known Witnesses - If you are aware of any witnesses to your case, try to give your lawyer their names and contact information. Don't search for witnesses or contact witnesses without first clearing your actions with your lawyer.

  • Be Honest - Criminal defense attorneys can be placed in a very awkward position if you lie to them or fail to inform them of important facts, and they rely upon a false statement or misleading impression in court. If an attorney relies upon a client's misrepresentations and half-truths, the lawyer may lose credibility with the prosecutor or court when the truth comes out. If the truth is revealed in front of a jury, even a small misrepresentation can cause a massive loss of credibility for the defendant and the attorney - and that may lead to conviction.

  • Let Your Attorney Guide Your Defense - Whether because of past prosecutions or due to their conducting independent research, some defendants have considerable knowledge of law and criminal procedure. However, even when that is true, that knowledge is often incomplete and may also be inaccurate. Other defendants see something on TV or read something in a book or on a website and believe that they have found important information that a trained lawyer will know is not useful. If you believe that you have found a law, a court case, or a legal theory that may be helpful to your defense, by all means bring it to the attention of your attorney. However, do not be disappointed if your attorney does not share your interpretation of the law.

  • Remember that Victory Is Not Guaranteed - Your attorney isn't helped by pronouncements that you have an easy case. If your case were easy, it is unlikely that you would have been charged with an offense, and there are well-documented cases in which even innocent people were convicted by juries.

Be Civil To Your Attorney and the Law Firm Staff

In order to maintain a positive relationship with your criminal defense attorney, it is important to extend a reasonable amount of courtesy to your attorney and the law firm staff. Your lawyer is aware that criminal prosecutions can be very stressful and intensely personal, and can cause even the most balanced person to suffer bouts of rage or frustration. But if you insist upon taking out your frustrations on your lawyer or the lawyer's staff, you will strain your relationship.

  • There Is No Conspiracy Against You - Don't accuse your criminal defense attorney of being part of a conspiracy with the prosecution and police (and possibly the judge). There is no conspiracy. If you sincerely believe there is a conspiracy, your remedy is to switch defense firms - the accusation will get you nowhere.

  • It Is Okay For Your Lawyer To Be Polite - Some defendants become upset when their lawyer is polite to the prosecutor or to police officers, or when it is apparent that the defense attorney has a good working relationship with them. It is possible to be an effective advocate while maintaining a good relationship with the other side, and that relationship may help an attorney obtain a favorable resolution of a case. If the police or prosecutor treat your lawyer with disdain it is not likely to be because your lawyer is an effective advocate. Such a reaction most often results from negative past experiences that leave the police and prosecution with the impression that your counsel is unethical or belligerent. While it is true that some prosecutors do not like lawyers who routinely beat them in cases, most of the effective criminal defense lawyers maintain cordial working relationships even with prosecutors, even the ones who they routinely trounce in court.

  • Your Attorney Can't Assume The Best - At times your lawyer may provide you with information that makes you believe that your lawyer is skeptical of your case. It is imperative that your attorney bring negative information to your attention, such that you can explain that information and help your attorney prepare to counter it in court. Don't be offended when your lawyer informs you of the risks of trial, or with an assessment of the strength of the evidence against you. Even innocent clients are sometimes convicted, and your lawyer has an obligation to inform you of the strength of the prosecutor's case.

  • Your Attorney Must Convey Plea Bargain Offers - Don't be offended when your lawyer shares with you the prosecutor's plea offers. Even if you intend to reject all plea bargains and take your case to trial, your criminal defense attorney has an ethical obligation to inform you of plea offers. The communication of such an offer does not mean that your attorney believes you to be guilty, or wants you to enter a guilty plea.

  • Your Lawyer Is Not "Only" A Public Defender - If you have obtained appointed counsel for your defense or your case has been assigned to a public defender's office, take note of this: The average public defender will typically provide you with a better defense than the average private criminal defense attorney. While it is possible that your appointed attorney will not be effective, the same is true for retained counsel. You should not assume that your appointed defense attorney will provide inadequate representation.

Stay In Contact With Your Attorney

Your criminal defense attorney will need to speak with you at various times through the progress of your case. Your lawyer may also have to provide you with notice of court hearings.

Make sure that your lawyer always has current contact information for you, including a valid mailing address and a telephone number where you can be reached in an emergency. If your attorney asks you to provide something - information, evidence, or anything else - try to provide it to the attorney as quickly as you can.

If you have questions or concerns about the progress of your case, contact your lawyer to inquire about your case. If important information comes to your attention, promptly the information to your attorney.

Copyright © 2000 Aaron Larson, All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder. If you use a quotation, excerpt or paraphrase of this article, except as otherwise authorized in writing by the author of the article you must cite this article as a source for your work and include a link back to the original article from any online materials that incorporate or are derived from the content of this article.

This article was first published on , and was last reviewed or amended on Jul 22, 2016.