Long gone are the old days where there was an intimate criminal defence bar. The expansion of law schools across Canada, the United States and the Common wealth countries have increased the amount of lawyers who are now licensed to practice law. In Ontario, accreditation has also increased the amount of lawyers out there. There is no longer an old boys club of criminal defence lawyers. The Ontario Criminal Lawyers’ Association (CLA) boasts a membership of over 1500 lawyer member lawyers who are more or less all in Ontario. There are even more practicing criminal law who are not registered with the CLA. So how does someone who is charged with a criminal offence in Ontario know who the best criminal defence lawyer is or who to hire? Afteral, there are so many lawyers out there. While this list is not exhaustive I am going to provide some indicators one should look for when deciding which criminal defence lawyer they should retainer (hire) – this can apply to which lawyer in general one should hire: 1) How many practice areas does the lawyer practice? Ideally, the criminal defence lawyer will only practice criminal law (however, given systemic, economic and business challenges, this has become increasingly difficult for lawyers to maintain single area practices). If the lawyer, like myself practices in another area that is somewhat complementary, such as family law, that’s okay too and may even be advantageous (for example, I am very knowledgeable in family dynamics in regard to domestic assaults as well as Child Protection cases which usually stem from criminal charges) and there are many overlaps between these two areas. The same can be said about immigration law (knowing immigration consequences of sentencing, and/or bail). A Lawyer who may do civil and criminal is good because there are a lot of overlaps in litigation. What you do want to avoid, is a lawyer who practices multiple different areas of law that do not seem complimentary at all, for example, a lawyer that practices criminal defence, real estate law, corporate law, estate law, municipal law, employment law, etc. etc., is someone I would suggest you avoid. Too many practice areas are certainly a red flag. 1a) Having said that, it all depends on the type of charge you are facing. A simple shoplifting charge or a simple very minor type of domestic assault charge which may end up in a resolution to have charges withdrawn, is not overtly complex for most lawyers to handle. So in some cases involving minor offences, the amount of practice areas your lawyer engages in, may not matter as much. The more serious the criminal charges, however, the more you want to make sure you retain a focused and experienced criminal defence lawyer.
2) Does the lawyer return your phone calls and communicate with you clearly? I can’t tell you how many times I have heard from potential clients calling me and telling me they want to switch lawyers because their current lawyer is not returning their phone calls, is rude to them or can’t explain things to them in simple terms that they can understand.
3) Has the lawyer been involved in reported criminal court decisions? While this is not a requirement, one would think that an experienced criminal lawyer with at least 10 years of experience would have come across a case or two that was reported in legal reports. You can look your lawyer up on www.Canlii.org to find out what type of cases s/he has been involved in (assuming they have been involved in a reported decision).
4) Does the lawyer write or blog about criminal law? This is not an absolute item for your lawyer to have but it can be a telling sign. For example, many older experienced lawyers don’t blog or write at all and they still get many clients because of their reputation – and the reputation is well deserved. Younger lawyers may blog a lot but not have much courtroom experience while others may not blog but have been the author of leading texts. It all depends but it’s certainly something you should look at.
5) When you meet with the lawyer, does s/he seem messy? Is the office in disarray, are there papers and people’s files out in the open for anyone to see the clients’ names, are the lawyer’s shoes polished, shirt ironed, is the lawyer well groomed, does the lawyer have a website, does the lawyer even have an office? These qualities are not just applicable to a criminal lawyer but any lawyer in any field. In my experience, lawyers who don’t exhibit these qualities are generally extremely sloppy, forgetful, not serious and/or moonlighting.
6) How many years experience does the lawyer have practicing criminal law? In many cases, client’s cant pick and choose as younger lawyers typically will be the ones to take on Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) certificates or offer more modest retainers, and that’s all many clients will be able to afford, but the years practicing in criminal law will make a big difference so it’s something to look for. Generally speaking however, criminal lawyers are a unique type of lawyer in that they will go above and beyond for clients to secure justice. Having said that, a younger lawyer could also be a superman lawyer because s/he will try so hard to prove themselves and basically work for next to nothing and put countless hours into your case. As you can see there are many factors to consider when hiring a criminal lawyer and knowing whether the lawyer is a good criminal defence lawyer in Ontario. If you are looking to speak to a criminal defence lawyer, please give me a call at 905-789-9007 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and it would be my pleasure to at the very least give you a free confidential consultation where I can discuss your case and options.