Mirror, mirror on the wall . . .

Do you remember the title to this column from the story of Snow White? “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” Well let’s change that to “… who is the best criminal defense lawyer of them all?”

Have you ever given any thought to who you would hire for a family member or close friend if they got in trouble in another state? I have. And people have asked me for a referral in states where I don’t know any lawyers much less the best criminal defense lawyers. After giving it some thought, I came up with what I believe to be the best way to find the most competent lawyer out of the jurisdiction where I practice. It is not very difficult and it costs nothing. But before I provide this advice let me tell you how NOT to do it.

Do not go to the internet and look at websites. They are self-ingratiating, slick presentations that might be impressive for their layout but do very little to educate the public about the true quality and competence of the lawyer. Next, do not consider the majority of organizations that lawyers say they belong to. It’s quite easy to become a member so long as you have a Visa card. In the recent past I have been asked to join or become a member of or included in the following: “Marquis Who’s Who of America’s Top Lawyers, The National Association of Distinguished Counsel’s Nation’s Top Attorneys, The National Trial Lawyers Top 100, The Litigation Counsel of America, America’s Top 100 Criminal Defense Attorneys, Best Lawyers, Super Lawyers, Criminal Defense Top 10 Attorneys in the Attorney and Practice magazine as well as the best lawyer category in a number of magazines.” And a 10 AVVO rating? Give a 10 rating to a few lawyer friends and get them to do the same with you and then answer a few questions and “poof,” you’re a 10! Lawyers advertise that perfect rating in hopes that the public will believe them to be superior to those with a lower number (I know a lawyer one year out of law school with a 10 AVVO rating and a highly regarded and competent lawyer with a statewide reputation in practice for over 30 years with a 6 AVVO rating). So enough of what not to consider.

The absolute best way to find the most competent criminal defense lawyers in any given area of the United States is the same everywhere. It can be done in one of two ways. The first is for the person to conduct a due diligence search of lawyers by reputation (word-of-mouth, not internet). They should go and interview with three of the top lawyers and see how they come across. Leave with their business card. They may have to interview more than three in order to come away with the three best lawyers that have impressed them. Next, they should go down to the criminal courthouse where felonies are tried. They should walk into a courtroom and ask the bailiff if there is a seasoned prosecutor and public defender in attendance. If there is, they should wait for a break and walk up to each lawyer individually. They should say something like “my son, best friend, spouse, etc. has been charged with a serious felony in a neighboring jurisdiction (it is important to say this as the prosecutor may be hesitant to comment upon the competency of a lawyer if he or she realizes that the case may ultimately be assigned to him or her). Then they should hand the three business cards to the lawyer and ask two questions. First, do you know these lawyers? (They should). Next, they should ask the lawyer to hand the business cards back to them in the order in which he or she believes them to be the most competent. Chances are, that’s the best lawyer in town. If the prosecutor or public defender is not convinced that the three business cards represent the top lawyers, then they should be asked who, in their opinion, is the best. There is a slight danger to this last question because they could be sending the case to their “buddy” in private practice.

If the due diligence approach is not favored for one reason or another, then the courthouse experiment will still provide the answer. But instead of handing business cards, I would suggest that the person ask two or three prosecutors and two or three seasoned public defenders who the best lawyer in town is. Chances are, there will be one name that keeps popping up from everyone’s list. There you have it.

So when the question “mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the best criminal defense lawyer of them all?” is asked, a little bit of research followed by a couple hours of time, will provide the answer.