If you are dealing with a serious or high profile case, not just any criminal defense attorney will do. You need to work with the best.

However, that raises the question:

How do you find the best criminal lawyer in Los Angeles?

Who is the best lawyer for my case?

There is no simple, one-size-fits-all answer.

The best criminal defense attorney for you will be a lawyer with:

  1. A deep level of expertise in your case area, 
  2. A proven track record of success in cases like yours,
  3. A communication style that you like,
  4. Fees that fit your budget, and
  5. Skills specific to your case, such as media training for high profile cases or Spanish proficiency if your are more comfortable speaking Spanish.

Every case is different. This means that finding the best criminal defense lawyer for your case is all about building a good shortlist, interviewing the finalists and working with the lawyer that has the best combination of the five elements above.

How to develop your shortlist

It can be a bit of a stretch, because not many people like to talk about times when they needed to hire a criminal lawyer, but one of the best places to start is by getting referrals. If a friend or loved one has worked with an attorney they liked, then they’re absolutely worth calling.

Otherwise, the process starts by finding lawyers who specialize in your area of criminal law. Are you being charged for a violation of California law in Los Angeles County? Then you’ll need criminal defense lawyer who specializes in California law.

Conversely, if you are facing federal charges, you’ll need a Los-Angeles based federal criminal defense attorney.

You can do a Google search to find lawyers that specialize in your case area, such as “white collar crime defense attorney in Los Angeles.” This will surface lawyers who take cases like yours.

Vetting lawyers in your shortlist before you call them

However, just because someone is in Google doesn’t mean they’ll be a great fit to represent you. Browsing their websites, look for signals that this person knows what they’re talking about:

  • Are their webpages professionally written and free from spelling errors, mistakes and broken images?
  • Is it easy to find awards and accolades they’ve won?
  • Is it easy to find their case history?

Next, take a look at their ratings on Avvo. Avvo is a legal-specific directory where clients can review and discuss the attorneys they worked with. 

While you can also find reviews on Google and Yelp, those platforms are notorious for fake reviews. According to the Harvard Business Review, around a quarter of all Yelp reviews are fake. That includes attorneys padding their own reviews with fake 5-star ratings, and giving fake 1-star reviews to their competition.

Avvo reviews, on the other hand, have to come from reviewers who can prove they have hired the attorney.

Calling criminal defense lawyers

After identifying a list of attorneys who (1) Specialize in your case area, (2) Have easy to find information to support their expertise, and (3) Have great reputations on Avvo, it’s time to make some calls.

All criminal lawyers have “free consultation” offers. This usually means they have an answering service or a paralegal who will answer the phone and collect details about your criminal charges. If the firm is able to take the case, they’ll likely schedule another meeting for you to meet the attorney.

Don’t be upset or dissuaded if they decline to take your case — there’s a number of reasons why a lawyer might not take a criminal case, and at the bottom line, it just means it wouldn’t have been a good fit.

Keep working through your list to set up a handful of interviews.

Questions to ask when interviewing criminal defense attorneys

Now it’s time to zero in on a lawyer for your case. Find out about the lawyer’s expertise in your case area. Ask about recent cases they took, and find out what they’d advise you to do in your case.

Of course, you don’t have to ask all of these questions, but here are 15 helpful questions you can ask to find out if a California criminal defense lawyer is right for you.

It is important to ask the right questions to determine if the attorney you are considering hiring is one who can help find you the best possible outcome. Below are the top 15 questions that you should ask when interviewing a criminal defense attorney to represent you:

1. How long have you practiced criminal law?

When it comes to defending a client in a criminal case, experience is key. There are numerous benefits to having an attorney who has practiced for many years and successfully represented a large number of clients. An experienced attorney can properly advise you on what to expect throughout all stages of the legal process. He or she will also have the ability to anticipate the strategies or actions of the prosecution and can use that to help build you a strong defense strategy. 

It is important that a defense attorney not only have years of experience, but the right kinds of experience and specialization. For example, a lot of attorneys do other types of legal work in additional to representing clients in criminal cases. You want to ensure that your attorney is an expert who specializes in criminal law and who can give your case their full attention. 

2. What are your educational and professional credentials?

Just as you would do when hiring anyone else to do a job, you want to ensure that your attorney has the proper educational and professional credentials. Questions such as, “from what law school did you graduate?” and “to which bar associations or professional organizations do you belong?” can help give you a better idea of the legitimacy of your legal council.

Additionally, you may want to ask if the attorney you are interviewing has ever been accused of or sanctioned for attorney misconduct. You want the attorney who is representing you to be in good standing within the legal system.

3. Have you handled cases like mine before?

It is not only important to find an attorney who has handled a good number of cases, but one who is knowledgeable about the charges you face as well. A lawyer who has had experience handling clients facing similar charges can save you a lot of time and money and most likely find you a better outcome overall. You may also want to ask if the cases similar to yours have gone to trial and what the results of those cases were.

4. What is your success rate?

Ensuring that your attorney has experience with clients in situations similar to yours is a good start, but you also want an attorney who is likely to find you a successful outcome. While every case and every client is unique, you want to find an attorney who has a good record for finding the best possible outcome for his or her clients.

5. Do you have any testimonials from past clients that I can read?

While not all attorneys ask for testimonials from clients, even some very good attorneys, if testimonials are available to you they can be a good way to see what actual clients have to say about the attorney you are considering hiring. Most attorneys with satisfied clients will be able to offer you plenty of written testimonials to take with you and read. Your attorney may also have testimonials from other lawyers in the community. If an attorney doesn’t have any client testimonials or won’t share any with you, you should feel free to ask why not. 

6. How often do your cases go to trial?

Criminal proceedings can be tiring, stressful, and costly. In many ways, the best outcome you can have for your case is one that comes quickly. By negotiating to settle out of court through a plea bargain, your attorney may be able to help you avoid having to appear in court and appear before a judge and jury.

Ideally, your attorney will have adequate knowledge to examine your case and determine if there is a way to find you a fair outcome without having to go to trial. On the other hand, if your case does go to trial, you will want to have an attorney who is confident and competent in the courtroom as well. 

7. How often do you appear in the courthouse where my case will be heard?

In addition to general experience appearing in a courtroom, it is also helpful to have an attorney who has rapport with the judges who would likely preside over your case. A criminal defense attorney who knows the local prosecutors will also have a better idea of what to expect from them and how to shape your defense around their potential actions. With prior knowledge of the courtroom in which your case will be heard, your attorney will be better able to evaluate the likely outcomes of your case. 

8. Will you be the one working on my case?

Many lawyers belong to firms which employ junior associates and paralegals. Oftentimes attorneys will delegate certain tasks involved in your case to other members of the legal team. This can be of benefit to you, as a junior associate’s hourly rate may be lower, which will save you having to pay a higher rate for your attorney to do the same task.

However, you will want to ensure that your attorney is involved in making all of the most important decisions in your case and is actively presiding over the work being done by other members of the team. You should feel free to ask your attorney whether he or she will be able to give adequate time and attention to your case.

9. How strong is my case?

No lawyer should guarantee a specific result for your case and you should be wary of any attorney who makes promises about what the exact outcome will be. However, an experienced and knowledgeable attorney should be able to evaluate the preliminary information they are given about your case and make an assessment as to how it may likely play out. It is also important to find what your attorney thinks are the strengths and weaknesses of your case which will shape the defense strategy that he or she will devise. 

10. What strategy would you propose for handling my case?

Just as with the outcome of a case, no attorney can control every aspect of the legal process or guarantee exactly how the case will play out. However, your attorney should be able to devise a clear defensive strategy and a plan for how to proceed with your case. Your attorney should outline the possible strategies, explain to you why they have chosen those strategies for you, and make you aware of each potential strategy’s pros and cons.

11. Do I have any options besides going to trial?

Along with inquiring about the overall strength of your case and what your lawyer views are the potential strategies, you will want to inquire specifically about options you have to avoid going to trial. A criminal trial is not only stressful, time consuming, and potentially costly, but also puts your fate in the hands of a judge and jury. Ask your attorney if you have the option of working out a fair plea bargain or if there are any other ways to avoid taking your case to court.

12. What will my role be in the case?

You will likely play a role in the preparation of your case, and it is important to know what is required of you. Most likely, as the defendant, you will be asked to provide and help prepare documents and relevant background information. You may also be asked not to speak to witnesses or do any legal work of your on.

In some instances, however, taking an active role can help your case, for example, in a DUI or drug-related case, undergoing treatment before the court orders it may help the outcome of your case later. You want to ensure that you are doing everything you can to help your case and the best way to do that is to ask your attorney to instruct you.

13. How long will the process be?

The amount of time it takes to get a resolution can vary widely from case to case. And while your attorney cannot control the pacing of the legal process, he or she should be able to provide you with an estimate of how long the process will be for your case based on the possible strategies used. Having an idea about the time frame will help you to prepare for the process you are facing.

14. How and how often will we communicate?

You may have many questions throughout the process, particularly when faced with charges that could result in jail time, fines, or other serious consequences. You should be able to get ahold of your attorney to ask any questions you may have as they arise.

You will also want to hear from your attorney regularly with updates about the progress of your case. Think about how often you want to be able to communicate with your attorney in order to feel comfortable and confident in your council and ensure that you have exchanged contact information and know how to stay in touch.

15. How much will my defense cost?

It is important to understand the costs that you will be facing throughout the process of your defense. Not only will you be paying your attorney’s fees, but there may be witness costs, investigation costs, and other costs along the ay as well. When interviewing an attorney, be upfront about asking what all of the potential costs may be and how their legal fees are structured. Most attorneys use either an hourly fee or a flat fee, and depending on your case, one may be preferable.

If your attorney charges an hourly fee, you will want to ask that that fee is and if you need to pay a retainer. If he or she charges a flat fee, as what that fee does and does not include and whether it needs to be paid upfront or can be paid in installments. Ask your attorney for an estimate of the cost of their fees as well as additional expenses related to your case. A legal defense can be costly, so it is wise to compare estimates offered by multiple attorneys before making a decision.

I already hired a criminal defense lawyer; is it too late to change to another one?

Let’s say your were arrested and taken into custody. You smartly called a lawyer, who was able to ably represent you at the arraignment and negotiate a favorable bail.

Now that the dust is starting to settle and the formal process is starting on your criminal case, you see that your lawyer seems a little too busy to take your calls. He was a great resource to help out in a pinch when you were arrested, but he probably won’t be able to represent you well at a trial.

Can you change your lawyer?

Absolutely. You can change lawyers at any point in the process as your case moves through the criminal justice system, and it’s actually fairly common to see. Some lawyers are great at some things and some are better at others. That’s why the “best criminal lawyer in Los Angeles” is going to be the person with the right combination of expertise, communication style, budget and availability for your case.

All you need to do is is file a motion with the court. You don’t need to give a reason for the change.

As we mentioned above, the best Los Angeles criminal defense attorney for you will depend on your specific situation. Do your homework, create a shortlist and ask good questions in your interviews, and that’ll help you find the best criminal defense lawyer for your situation.

Robert M. Helfend is a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer who has been practicing sine 1984. He specializes in difficult felonies and federal crimes, and he does not take cases related to DUI and police misconduct. Among numerous accolades, he has been recently honored by SuperLawyers and the National Trial Lawyers Top 100.

If you feel like it might be a good fit, call today to discuss your case further – 800-834-6434.

Published June 20, 2024.