A recent caller to my office had a relative charged with a felony and told me that they wanted to hire the “best criminal lawyer in Chicago.” He wanted to know who I recommended and made clear that money was no object.
I get this type of call a lot. There is a quick and easy answer to the question. The answer is that there is no “best” criminal attorney, but rather you need to hire the one that is best for you and your case.
Let me give a longer explanation.
When hiring a criminal attorney, especially in Cook County where there are lots of cases, you have certain things to look for to help you figure out who is best for you. Some of the baseline things to consider:
1. Are they only handling criminal cases or do they dabble in other areas of law?
2. What is their experience? Did they use to prosecute cases? That can be a good sign as often that leads to good connections which can matter. If they aren’t former prosecutors, how long have they been defending cases? I look for someone with at least ten years of experience.
3. How often do they handle cases similar to yours? There is no point in paying $10,000 to a lawyer who mostly handles high level felonies if you are charged with misdemeanor retail theft. You can get a good lawyer to make the case go away at 1/10th of the cost. On the other hand, if you are being accused of criminal sexual assault, aggravated UUW or some other case that could lead to serious jail time, you better have an attorney that has handled that type of case before. You don’t want anyone gaining experience from your case.
4. How often do they go to the courthouse your case will be at? It’s not the be all, end all, but it does matter in many cases if your attorney knows the prosecutor and/or Judge. A dirty little secret about Illinois criminal law, especially in Cook County, is that there are too many cases on the docket. As a result, they will often dismiss lower level cases and one of the best ways to make that happen is to know what the prosecutor or Judge like to do or have their ear.
5. Is their price too cheap? If someone is quoting you way less than all of the other lawyers you are talking to, it might be a sign that they aren’t a fighter. I’m not saying you should hire the most expensive lawyer on the block, but you also don’t want the cheapest. Getting a good result usually takes a lot of work. If others are quoting you $2,500 and some lawyer is telling you they will get it done for $400, my guess is that they’ll have you plead guilty and get probation which is a conviction you might have on your record forever. You can plead guilty for free. A real attorney works to get the best result possible.
You will note that won/loss record isn’t on this list. Lawyers who promote that are often full of it. This is especially true because these statistics aren’t officially kept and in some cases you can plead guilty but still call it a win if your client doesn’t go to jail. Sometimes it’s a win if they go to prison for two years instead of ten. Technically you lost, but really you won.
So even with all of these things in mind, how do you know who is best for you? You never can tell for sure, but that’s partly why we exist. We give honest recommendations based on the criteria mentioned along with feedback from their clients as well as seeing the work they do. If you want our recommendation as to who is the right attorney for you to hire, call us any time, for free, at 312-346-5320.