How to choose the right criminal defence lawyer

  1. The more experienced your lawyer is the more comfortable you should feel. What other work does he or she perform? Be careful if other areas of the law are carried out. We can only assist you with criminal law matters. You should select a lawyer who exclusively works in the criminal law field, and has, an absolute minimum of 25 years experience as an admitted legal practitioner. Paul Wiggins has been a qualified (i.e admitted as a) legal practitioner since 1988. How much experience does your criminal lawyer have?
  2. Who are you dealing with? Be careful with a junior (i.e. of, generally less than 25 years experience) lawyer. Are they learning through your legal problem? Will you be bail refused or receive an unjustified full time gaol sentence because of any junior lawyer’s lack of experience. How do others define what a senior Lawyer is? One of the greatest Lawyer’s of the last century Lord Denning,said ,on compulsory retirement of judges: “You can do good work after 75. I think I gave some of my judgements of greatest value after 75.”, quoted from the “Independent” ,Saturday 6 March 1999 from the obituary of Lord Denning. An Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States, Oliver Wendell Holmes Junior claimed on page 1 of his book ‘The Common Law’ published in 1881: “The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.”
  3. Be careful of the larger firms. You may be dealing with lawyer X. When your substantive matter is at court you may be dealing with lawyer Y, who has less experience and may not be on top of your matter. Are you being charged for the time lawyer X explains everything to lawyer Y and, when lawyer Y does the job are you further paying for any inadequacies or the lack of experience with him or her explaining the result back to lawyer X.
    How long has your lawyer been operating from the same location. We have been in the same building for over 25 years.
  4. Are you dealing with an employed lawyer? How long will he or she last before moving on? Will he or she be employed elsewhere when your case is ultimately determined at the Court? How much do THEY care about YOU?
  5. Young lawyers of limited experience think they know it all. Old lawyers of substantial experience know this is not the case.
  6. Working in the Legal profession is stressful in the extreme. Burn out, suicides and associated mental and physical health problems regularly occur. The only indication you can rely on with certainty is the experience of the lawyer acting for you. It is the only yardstick you should rely on. The more experience he or she has the tougher they are.
  7. Be very careful of what you are told. If you are confidently told your case has a high (or even a 100%) chance of success get it in writing. You may be wrongly and perhaps at times innocently told (particularly by inexperienced lawyers) that you will win your case. Whether or not a case is won or lost depends on many factors. The experience of the lawyer acting for you is, always, your best bet.We do not tell you what you want to hear. We inform you of the best options available to you.At times it is to wait and see how the case develops. At times it is to fight hard. At times it is to plead guilty. It all depends on; the circumstances of the case, the evidence against you and your budget. Should subpoenas issue? Should any experts be engaged? Your senior and very experienced criminal lawyer has the appropriate expertise to properly advise and guide you through this very stressful period of your life. Be very careful, when one claims there results are better than others. On what statistical basis can this type of claim be justified? Also be very careful of awards and qualifications “achieved”. We are quiet achievers. Our view is if you know what you are doing: you do it. If you do not know what you are doing: you teach it. If you are absolutely hopeless become a critic. We are too busy getting on with the job to be worried about the side issues. Again we rely heavily on our substantial experience. You should also be extremely careful when others claim they will fight your case hard. To us this means that at all times they will be aggressive. Such conduct (subject to ethical considerations) is, at times, justified. At other times it is not. To claim they will always vigorously fight your case at all times is dangerous in the extreme.
  8. Many tactical decisions need to be made during a case. Again the more experience your lawyer has, generally the result of any such tactical decision, is, generally, in your favour. If your case is hopeless in the extreme, (subject to ethical considerations), it still may be worth fighting it. Defective evidence or evidence worthy of challenge can be attacked. Such evidence may be excluded. Again the more experience your lawyer has the better advice you will receive.
  9. Experienced criminal lawyers have knowledge based on experience regarding many technical matters covering a wide area including the forensic evidence field. This knowledge at times is invaluable to you. Knowledge covering areas including; the psychology of identification, forensic procedures, forensic medicine, traits of witnesses, guns, drugs, blood, light, the science of vehicle collisions, forgery, document analysis and much more are all known to the experienced criminal lawyer, particularly when utilised during the hearing /trial, and, further,when, any appropriate expert should be consulted, the precise advice required and who that expert should be.
  10. Whether or not you should plead guilty needs to be carefully analysed. If you plead guilty should negotiations occur with the prosecution for you to plead guilty to less serious offences? When should a guilty plea be entered? It is tragic observing inexperienced lawyers advising clients to plead guilty too early in time. This is to be contrasted with the law, generally giving sentencing discounts to a plea of guilty and the timing of it (including advising the court of an intention to plead guilty and the circumstances of such intention). The inexperienced lawyer needs many years experience relating to the precise timing of a guilty plea and/or negotiating pleading guilty to less serious charges. This includes the correct tactical approach that should be adopted. It can only be acquired after many years experience.
  11. At times a case although not hopeless in the extreme, is fought with mixed results. You can only make the decision as to whether or not you should fight the case after all evidence is critically analysed, and, subject to financial budget considerations. You should listen to advice made by a very experienced practitioner. Again, be very careful of what you are told. This is of particular importance if a hopeless case is fought and lost. Here, generally, any sentence discount may be lost. Alternatively, clients at times will run a case as a defended hearing/trial even though the odds of winning it are not good. You need to make a decision after being properly advised by a very senior legal practitioner.
  12. Be careful of the over confident (generally junior) Criminal lawyer who, in the early days, guarantees success yet loses the case making absurd excuses blaming everyone and everything other than his or her lack of ability and masking your reliance on his or her bad legal advice.
  13. How many court appearances has the person who has the conduct of your matter performed? Many firms claim many years of total combined experience of all of its practitioners. In the court room it is the personal experience of who is appearing for you that is of prime importance.
  14. Be very wary of charge out rates. Do they include GST? Cheap charge out rates may be a false economy. Consideration of irrelevant issues can be costly with a cheap hourly rate. Inexperienced lawyers, (perhaps not at all times inadvertently) delay matters raising irrelevant issues. A senior very experienced lawyer with a higher charge out rate can often obtain a quicker and ultimately cheaper remedy or advice to you that ultimately is more economical than going for a cheaper hourly rate performed by inexperienced lawyers. Sir Henry Royce (of Rolls Royce fame) said: “The quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten.”The Courts have substantial budget constraints. Court personnel, particularly the judicial officers have heavy burdens placed on them carrying out the business of the court that inexperienced criminal lawyers do not appear to understand.
  15. Our business model is that of a learned profession. Others refer to the law as “an industry”. In these modern times concepts of; ethics, manners, respect for the senior members of the legal profession are waning. You are the client. As a proud member of a learned profession we adhere to the view and subscribe to the proposition (excluding a Lawyer’s duty to the court) that nothing else is more important than you. Others arrogantly dismiss the concept of a learned profession. They are a member of an industry: a business. Your interests are much more important than the greed of profit. Is your proposed criminal defence lawyer conducting a business or is he or she a member of a learned profession? Again, be very careful of the larger firms. At least some of the senior partners need to be constantly in the office being involved in the administrative functions profitably operating their business. Please consider the substantial overheads the larger firms endure, paying; rent insurances, energy costs, wages, group tax, holiday pay, sick pay, superannuation etc. These overheads are a heavy burden. They must be recouped from you, the client.
  16. Be very careful of the confident, generally very junior criminal lawyers in the court room. If they “push in” ahead of other lawyers, particularly the more senior ones? This should be regarded as an indication they fail to observe the; courtesy, manners and respect of the profession’s senior members. If this is how they react with their colleagues how will they treat you? We have seen this offensive behaviour occur in the presence of Queens Counsel, Senior Counsel, former Judicial Officers and one former Attorney General.
  17. If a criminal lawyer displays what we call “conspicuous consumption” you should also be careful. The expensive car, luxurious offices, opulent jewellery being lavishly displayed is not,in all cases, a sign of success. Is the existence of “conspicuous consumption” massaging an enormous ego or displaying delusions of ability as a criminal lawyer?
  18. Regardless of whether or not the learned profession or the industry model is adopted , in NSW the failure rate of all small business entities is extremely high. In the ; first, third and fifth years of operation 32%,62% and 74% of all small businesses fail, respectively (see the Parliament of NSW August 2012 e-brief 16/2012 Small Business in NSW: Statistical snapshot and recent developments by Gareth Griffith and John Wilkinson at page 4 ).The longer a legal practice has survived the more confident you should be. Paul Wiggins has been practising on his own account, in Parramatta since 29 February, 1988.
  19. Over 35 institutions now offer accredited law degrees. Fee paying students can compete with others of academic ability. Was your lawyer a fee paying graduate? Was your criminal lawyer accepted into a law course as a below standard student? What are the academic standards of the Institution he or she qualified at?
  20. What experience has your criminal lawyer had with adversity? We are very sympathetic to your ordeal with the NSW Criminal Justice system. Over the years thousands of clients have been assisted.
  21. If your matter is a strictly indictable matter that must go to Trial in the superior courts (at and above the District Court level in NSW) be very careful on the advice you receive at the early stages of the matter in the Local Court including any committal hearing. Substantial funds can be wasted on, at times absurd applications regarding a committal hearing. Challenging evidence at a Committal hearing, including making any application to cross examine any witness at any committal hearing is expensive and often the only result is the Prosecution is alerted to defects in its case that can at times be totally or partially remedied at any subsequent Trial. Contesting committal hearings, is, absent of compelling reasons to the contrary a brave proposition as the end result may be fatal for any accused person at a subsequent Trial.
  22. A substantial over supply of lawyers exists in Australia. The amount of legal work is also diminishing. The end result is more lawyers are chasing less work. Again, you can only properly trust the experienced very senior lawyer working exclusively in the criminal law field. What were the training standards of your Criminal Lawyer? How long will he or she last in the legal profession?
  23. Are Barristers better? Barristers can be briefed by Solicitors. They can also compete directly with Solicitors for work. Be very careful if you deal directly with a Barrister. They have, at law substantial restrictions placed on them. A barrister’s compulsorily insurance cover is inferior to the insurance premiums paid by Solicitors. Solicitors and Barristers have the right of appearance or audience in all courts. Generally, in relation to the Criminal Law, Solicitors conduct local court work. Barristers carry out the Supreme (and appellate or superior courts to it) Court work. The District Court work is generally shared by both Solicitors and Barristers. It is our practise not to brief Barristers who directly compete with solicitors. They operate to the disadvantage of the solicitors. When we brief a Barrister the appropriate Barrister to the particular matter is utilised. A different advocacy style is required when cross examining a young child concerning sexual assault allegations to a matter when it is alleged the Police acted improperly or illegally. If, a Barrister, is required, is, a decision you need to make with a very experienced Solicitor. Also be careful of the young inexperienced solicitor advising you to brief one of his or her mates of similar inexperience. You MUST rely of the advice of a very experienced solicitor before engaging any Barrister.
  24. If you are Bail refused and are visited by your criminal lawyer, whilst incarcerated: what (if any) news does he or she have for you? If you are constantly visited whilst in custody make sure each legal visit gives you value. Many thousands of very precious dollars are wasted when criminal defence lawyers attended in custody without any real news or progress with your case. When the money runs out, you, the client are dumped receiving little if any value for the money paid?
  25. Be cautious of the advice you are given inside the gaol to use particular Lawyers. Some recommendations are genuine. Others are motivated by inmates receiving “commissions”. Although this can occur, under certain circumstances and within the law, we ask you to utilise great care when you rely on any referral from inside the gaol. Again you MUST rely on the many years of experience of your experienced senior criminal lawyer. 

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