Deciding who will help you or a loved one navigate the criminal justice system when faced with a criminal charge, or choosing a lawyer who will represent you in an important civil matter, is one of the most important decisions you and your family may make. That decision could determine whether you or a family member face jail time or financial ruin, or whether you will regain your liberty in a criminal case or recover the damages you’ve suffered in a civil case. It’s a decision you cannot take lightly.
Especially when you’re faced with a criminal charge – whether it’s driving while intoxicated (DWI), possession of drugs, theft, fraud, embezzlement, and whether it’s a felony or a misdemeanor – the choice of a lawyer can be one of the most important decisions you will ever make and may make the difference between spending time in jail or prison or going free. It’s important that you choose a lawyer with experience, knowledge, and the attitude to fight for you.
A good place to start – but only to start – the process is to ask friends or family members for recommendations. However, just because a lawyer advertises heavily or once handled a case for a friend does not necessarily mean that he has the expertise you need for your case. Ideally, you will want a lawyer who has experience, skill, and a wide range of knowledge to help you through the legal process. Choosing a lawyer based on a billboard or a television ad – or based even on what you read on a website – should not be the end of your search. You want to be assured that you’re making a good decision after considering a number of factors – experience, background, ability, reputation and track record.
The practice of law, just as in many other professions, has many sub-areas or specialties. Today, the practice of law is – sometimes unfortunately – becoming more and more specialized to the point where a lawyer may know one, or two, areas of the law, but does not have the background and experience in more areas of the law which may be important in handling your case. Specialists are sometimes a good idea; but, you should consider whether a more diverse background of experience could be more helpful and productive.
One of the best ways to objectively determine the legal ability and ethics rating of a lawyer is to review the “Martindale Hubbell” rating. Martindale Hubbell is a worldwide objective legal rating service which rates lawyers and publishes those ratings. Martindale Hubbell, by polling judges, lawyers and other members of the legal community and evaluating those opinions establishes one of three ratings for lawyers: CV, BV or AV. The V part of the rating is the ethical rating and a lawyer will not receive any rating unless he gets a V. That is, unless the lawyer is found to have been nominated by his peers in the legal community to have a high level of ethics, then no rating will be established. The C, B or A rating relates to the lawyer’s legal ability. So, a CV means the lawyer is “good to high” in legal ability, BV means the lawyer is “high to very high” in legal ability and AV means the lawyer is “very high to preeminent.” AV is the highest rating a lawyer can achieve in this system.