There are many excellent and reasonably priced criminal defense attorneys but clients must do their homework to select an attorney that suits them best. Whether you consider our law firm or another attorney here are some considerations in making your selection:

1) Free Consultations?

You should insist on a free consultation. You cannot properly evaluate if a lawyer meets your needs without the ability to consult freely about a case and determine whether their level of knowledge meets your expectations.

2) Length of Time Practicing Law?

Like in any profession, the length of practice is often but not always proportional to the level of experience the lawyer has garnered.

3) Is the law firm experienced in handling all  phases of cases including appeals?

Being able to handle your case not only at trial but if necessary on appeal, often signals the lawyer has a high degree of skill since some less-skilled lawyers do not have the training and experience to handle appeals. Protecting your appellate rights during trial is a key factor to having success on appeal. Don't be shy about asking the lawyer about representative samples of work done on appeal.

4) Does the firm have experience conducting jury trials?

Experience matters. A lawyer that has conducted hundreds of jury trials in his career may be better able to handle your jury case than a novice. Having said that, experienced lawyers were once beginners and many excelled right from their first case, so the level of experience with such cases is but one factor in selecting counsel.

5) Does the firm have experience handling most types of criminal and traffic cases?

Again, experience matters. A firm that has handled tens of thousands of cases ranging from the smallest infraction to Capital Murder to high profile appellate cases, may signal they will nimbly, creatively and ably handle your case. With a wide variety of cases, lawyers are more frequently contfronted with new situations and have to develop the skill to think on their feet. Much of criminal defense is about exploiting the unexpected opportunity. Having said that, there are many firms that limit their practices to a more restricted sub-group of cases and also do an excellent job.

6) Will the firm quote you a flat fee for the entire case through trial?

Law firms should ethically quote their fees to you up-front and provide you with a written contract. Hidden or surprise charges are not only arguably unethical but signal you should stay away from that lawyer.

7) Is the lawyer skilled at research and writing and if so, why is that important?

Good research and writing are often key to winning your case by motion at trial or on appeal. Such skills also suggest the lawyer will be well able to advocate orally on your behalf. Do not hesitate to ask lawyers for samples of their work which most will gladly share or already have posted on their website.

8) What should I make of recommendations on web rating services?

Such services may accurately reflect the lawyers skill or may conversely just reflect items on a resume that are not necessarily reflective of skill in court. Some excellent firms discourage client recommendations because they do not wish to place their clients in the position to disclose details about their cases on the web. You should realize further that there is potential for mischief in some favorable online client reviews where the temptation is great for some search optimization services to post fake reviews. Anonymous or untraceable recommendations should be taken with a grain of salt. Peer recommendations from respected attorneys should carry greater weight because good lawyers do not tend to recommend other lawyers that are sub-par.

9) Should I check out whether the lawyer has been disciplined by the state bar?

Absolutely. This is one of the easiest ways to determine if the lawyer or members of their firm are likely to provide you with less than adequate representation. The Virginia State Bar provides you (as do most other state bars) with the ability to search whether your attorney has been disciplined publicly. Beyond that you can run a web search on the attorney to see if there are any other sources of complaints. Realize that anonymous complaints are to be taken with a grain of salt since they could simply be complaints by a disgruntled client who unfairly blames a good lawyer for a bad result.

10) The lawyer has appeared in the media frequently--does that mean he/she is a great lawyer?

Mr. Bernhard of our firm and/or his cases have been often mentioned in respected publications like The Washington Post, The Virginia Lawyer's Weekly, The New York Times Magazine, and The Washington Times. Nothwithstanding that fact we suggest that those cases where his own work is reported are a lot more relevant to his ability than quotes about the work done by others. There are many excellent lawyers who never appear in the media and being a media celebrity does not necessarily guarantee legal ability in the courtroom.

11) I have little or no money so should I go into debt to replace my public defender?

If you have qualified for a public defender or court-appointed attorney, do not be so quick to discard them and pay a private lawyer with money you do not have. Many are superb lawyers who will give you excellent service. Public defenders, because they practice daily in their jurisdiction, often know who the best lawyers are practicing in that forum. If you do not have a friend to refer you to a lawyer and are determined to seek private counsel, ask the public defender to whom you were appointed for several names to whom they might go to if they were in trouble.

12) Should I shop around and compare?

Absolutely. Consider going to several lawyers to shop both for price and quality. At our firm we encourage prospective clients to compare us with other firms. You will likely quickly discern whether the lawyer is knowledgeable by comparing what each has said. Recognize that prices are often negotiable and vary widely. A high price does not necessarily correspond to excellent service. The law business has some of the least transparent pricing and clients regularly overpay by failing to shop around.


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            & GARDNER
                           Attorneys at Law
6105-D Arlington Blvd.
Falls Church, VA
(703) 538-4710