Every now and again I check the stats on my website to see what search terms people are using to get to my website. I'm interested in finding out what the normal citizen is looking for in a lawyer. As I have said frequently on this blog, I endeavor to put as much legal information as possible on my website. It allows people to make their best decision about who should represent them in court, and sometimes empowers the accused person to make the best decision about what to do with his case, irrespective of who represents him.
One search question that keeps leading to my site is “Who is the Best Criminal Lawyer in Houston?” That's a pretty good question, in the abstract. When an individual is facing prosecution from the powerful government, she wants to know that she has the very best representative speaking on her behalf. However, how do you actually identify who is the best?
If you Google “Who is the Best Criminal Lawyer in Houston?” or “Who is the Best Criminal Defense Attorney in Houston?”, the first two pages list about 10 lawyers (Not including paid advertisements). Of those 10, I would probably classify most of them as some of the best lawyers I know. So maybe Google knows what it is doing! However, the same ten lawyers show up on all kinds of different searches that have nothing to do with quality. So what's the deal?
There are some very good criminal lawyers in Houston. (I naturally put myself into that group!) And there are some lousy criminal defense attorneys out there, with fancy websites. So, how can you tell the difference?
Hiring a Lawyer Is Not like Choosing a Date in Tinder
According to the information I get from my stats, most people who are searching for a criminal lawyer don't spend much longer than a few seconds on any particular site. This is only enough time to take a look at the first page of a website. Essentially, people are treating this search the same way they use Tinder. That's a big mistake.
Hiring a lawyer based solely on the attractiveness of his website is not the same as making online decisions on who to date. If you decide to ask someone out on a dating site based on his or her picture, it doesn't create much harm in the short term because you can always decide not to have a second date! But once you entrust a lawyer to make decisions about your liberty, you may be locked in no matter how you feel about your lawyer's initial representation.
I get phone calls all the time from people who want to change lawyers. Usually, the tale they tell me of the ineptitude of their lawyer warrants a switch to new counsel. (Sometimes, not.) However, I always tell these poor souls the same thing; it is substantially harder to help someone after some other lawyer has already made decisions about their case.
It Matters Who Walks into Court with You on the First Setting.
For example, if the first lawyer has decided on a doomed defense and explained it all to the prosecution in minute detail, it will seem suspicious to the Assistant DA when the second lawyer comes in and spins a different version of events. Or if an accused is rightly interested in a dismissal, and the first lawyer starts talking to the prosecution about a plea offer, it is nearly impossible for the second lawyer to get the DA off the plea bargain train. Even worse are those situations when the first lawyer involves the Judge and the DA. (An example would be bail amount or release conditions.) Coming in after the fact requires the relieving lawyer to convince both the DA and Judge not only that his new request is reasonable, but also to convince them that they were wrong the first time. Good luck with that!
The bottom line is: it matters who walks into court with you on the first setting. You want the best lawyer possible.
So, How to Choose the Best Criminal Defense Lawyer?
So, how do you do it? First, consider more than one lawyer. Do your Google search and get referrals. Make a list. Write it down. Compare credentials like experience, certifications, past associations with prosecution or judges. Look at all of their reviews. (One bad review might be an outlier from a client disappointed in his actions, not his lawyers.) Browse the pages in the lawyer's website that specifically deals with your charged offense. Call and speak with the lawyers on your list. Cut your list down to three that you feel the most comfortable with. Meet these three in person. Excise any lawyer you can't possibly afford. (That usually means they are charging too much anyway.)
All of this is hard work, but there is no more important decision you can make than who should ultimately represent you in criminal court. If you follow the steps outlined above, you have a good shot at getting your best representation. And remember, the question you should ask isn't “Who is the Best Criminal Lawyer in Houston?” That's subjective, and Google's algorithm is nothing but math. The question you should ask is, “Who is the Best Criminal Lawyer for me and my case?” That will lead you in the right direction. Good Luck!