How To Choose the Right Criminal Defense Attorney for You

Some tips for narrowing your search

By Tim Kelly, J.D. | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on April 13, 2023

Use these links to jump to different sections:

Facing a criminal charge is a stressful experience. Criminal charges can pose serious risks to your finances, criminal record, and (in severe cases) your freedom.

The good news is that there is an industry of skilled criminal law professionals who can help you in your time of need. But know this, finding the right criminal defense attorney is one of the most important decisions you can make for your legal defense. Make sure you find the right criminal defense lawyer for you by following the valuable tips laid out below.

What You Need To Know

  • As you begin your search, take inventory of your criminal charges, your finances, and what steps you can take to minimize your legal jeopardy.
  • Many resources are available for finding attorneys, including third-party services such as Super Lawyers.
  • Find a criminal defense attorney in your local area that has a track record of defending the sort of crimes with which you’ve been charged.
  • Choose an attorney you feel comfortable with. Criminal charges can be time-consuming and stressful, so you’ll want to select a legal professional you can trust.

How To Research Criminal Defense Attorneys

Criminal defense cases often take a substantial amount of time to navigate through the legal system. For this reason, it’s best to begin by taking a brief inventory of your own personal thoughts regarding your immediate legal needs.

The decisions you make from this point on are likely to impact your case significantly. So, it’s best to go into the process clearheaded and with a sound mind.

An excellent way to begin is by asking yourself these crucial questions:

  • What crime or crimes have I been charged with?
  • Am I alleged to have violated state law, federal law, or both?
  • What is my financial situation regarding affording an attorney?
  • Are there family members or loved ones who need to be informed of my legal decisions?
  • Are there steps I can take to potentially mitigate my legal jeopardy before court?

While by no means a guarantee of mitigating an eventual sentence, taking immediate steps to improve your personal situation can benefit you later in court.

For example, if your charges are drug or alcohol-related, entering a treatment program or 12-step program voluntarily will show a judge that you are serious in addressing the factors that brought you before them. This effort will also let good lawyers know that you are sincere about improving your situation.

Once you’ve taken a moment to collect your thoughts, begin seeking an attorney right away. Whether your court date is six days or six months from now, it’s never too early to start searching for a criminal defense attorney.

Note: If you are a defendant facing a criminal charge, you have a constitutional right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you and paid for by the state. Typically, when defendants cannot afford a legal defense, the court appoints them a public defender.

Know Your Charges

It would be best to review your criminal report for the charged offense. This way, you’ll be able to convey your situation to prospective attorneys during initial consultations.

You’ll want an attorney who has experience dealing with the issues facing you. It will be easiest to find a capable attorney if you can speak openly about your charges and actions at the time the offense occurred.

Familiarizing yourself with your charges will help you obtain the best legal advice later.

Survey Your Resources

You’ve undoubtedly considered the obvious methods, such as using a phone book or Google. But there are many helpful avenues you may not have considered.

Here are a few of the most beneficial ways to find a criminal attorney:


It’s never fun to discuss your criminal charges with family or friends. However, you might be surprised to find out that there are people in your life who have faced similar setbacks. In these instances, ask others about their legal defenses and gather information about which attorneys or law firms they used and why. Were they happy with their legal team’s performance? If so, it is worthwhile to find that attorney’s contact information and set up a consultation.

Local Bar Associations

A great way to find attorneys is through state and local bar associations. Perform a quick internet search for state bar associations. Often, these websites include databases of local attorneys for your research.

Third-Party Services

Searching for attorneys is time-consuming and stressful—those wanting to forgo the hassle turn to third-party services like Super Lawyers. Consider using Super Lawyers to drill down your search and contact the right lawyer for you today.

To help you get started in your search for a criminal defense attorney, follow this link to the Super Lawyers directory and use the search box to find a lawyer based on your legal issue or location.

What To Look For in a Criminal Defense Attorney

Now that you’ve taken some time to research attorneys, it’s time to start contacting them to set up a consultation. Consultations are initial meetings with potential attorneys where you discuss your case. These meetings are often free and can be a terrific way to narrow down your selection.

Several factors can determine which kind of criminal lawyer your case requires, including:

  • Your jurisdictional location
  • The skillsets of available attorneys in your price range
  • Your own personal gut feelings

When meeting with criminal defense attorneys, keep the following considerations in mind:

Local Practice

When selecting an attorney, you’ll want to find someone with local experience in your area. A local criminal defense attorney will have experience working with your jurisdiction’s prosecutors, judges, and law enforcement.

An attorney operating in the same locale for an extended period will likely have relationships with these institutions and understand how they work. Such knowledge can be invaluable as your case progresses through the criminal justice system.

Skillful Experience Defending the Charged Crime

In addition to proximity, you’ll want to make sure that you’re hiring an experienced attorney that has competently defended the crimes with which you’ve been charged. There are criminal defense attorneys with specific focuses and skillsets. Some attorneys have significant experience defending crimes such as DWI, while others are geared toward defending white-collar crimes such as embezzlement.

When searching for a lawyer online or via the phone book, please pay close attention to whether they list your offense as one of their specialties. A little bit of quick research can save you the trouble of an unnecessary consultation later.

Go With Someone You Can Trust

Your gut feeling can be a good indicator of whether a prospective criminal defense attorney is right for you. After your free consultation, ask yourself whether you felt comfortable during your meeting. Is this a person you can feel at ease with?

Most importantly, is this someone you can see yourself trusting during what ensures to be an arduous process. If so, they might be the right attorney for you.

Ask the Right Questions

One of the best ways to build trust is by asking the right questions. Here are a few questions to ask your prospective criminal defense lawyer at the free consultation:

  • Do you have a specific area of specialization?
  • Have you defended this type of case before?
  • What is your billing structure (e.g., flat fee, retainer, etc.)
  • How many years of experience do you have?

Find a highly experienced and reputable criminal defense attorney using the Super Lawyers directory.

For more information on this legal area, see our overview on criminal law.

What do I do next?

Enter your location below to get connected with a qualified attorney today.
Popular attorney searches: Assault & Battery Drug & Alcohol Violations

Find top lawyers with confidence

The Super Lawyers patented selection process is peer influenced and research driven, selecting the top 5% of attorneys to the Super Lawyers lists each year. We know lawyers and make it easy to connect with them.

Find a lawyer near you