What is your experience with cases like mine?
Because of the serious consequences of a criminal conviction, it is important to know that your lawyer has the experience and expertise to handle your case. You will want to know how long your lawyer has been practicing, whether they practice exclusively in criminal law, and if they specialize in any specific offences. If you are charged with a serious sexual assault for example, it is best to a hire a lawyer with considerable experience taking sexual assault cases to trial. Knowing that your lawyer has repeatedly defended clients facing similar allegations is essential to having confidence in their professional judgement and advice.
Will you personally be handling my file?
Oftentimes, lawyers work as a team with other members of their firm, including associates, students, and paralegals. It is common for senior counsel to have firm members assist them with smaller tasks such as administrative court appearances and drafting of documents. Confirm that your lawyer will personally attend your trial, be responsible for all decision-making, and oversee the work of any individuals assisting with your case.
How will we communicate?
Communication is the key to a successful lawyer-client communication. Oftentimes, breakdowns in lawyer-client relationships are the result of poor communication by one or both parties. As your case progresses, you will need to be in contact with your lawyer to receive updates and provide instructions. Your lawyer may prefer that you book appointments in advance to ensure they are available to speak to you about your case. Ask your lawyer how they prefer to communicate with their clients. At the same time, let your lawyer know your own availability based on your work schedule, family obligations, or any other obligations you have. It is important to know whether your lawyer can schedule meetings on evenings or weekends if required and whether they can be reached after hours in emergency situations.
What do you charge?
This is an important question to ask at the outset of your case. The fees associated with a criminal manner can vary significantly based on factors including the complexity of the case, if it is likely to go to trial, how long that trial is estimated to take, and the experience level of the lawyer. Lawyers may charge by the hour or charge a ‘block fee,’ which is a fixed sum that covers all the lawyer’s work in relation to a specified task. It is important to discuss what is included and excluded from any quote, so you are not surprised by unexpected fees later in the court process. If you are concerned about your ability to pay, ask your lawyer about a payment plan.
What should I do?
At your initial consultation, your lawyer will review any information and documents you can provide and explain your options moving forward and the potential outcomes. Depending on how recently you were charged, you may only have a brief synopsis of the allegations you are facing and the Crown’s evidence against you. It may be that your lawyer needs more information before they recommend what you should ultimately do. In any event, ask your lawyer what their strategy will be moving forward and what the immediate next steps are for both of you. You should end the consultation feeling confident about the next steps and that your lawyer will continue to advise you as they obtain more information.