Five things to ask a criminal lawyer before hiring them

1. Have you handled a case like this before?

It is really important to get advice from a criminal lawyer who has experience with the type of legal issue that you are facing.  Be sure to ask your lawyer if they have, because a lawyer who is familiar with the type of charges you are facing, the possible penalties you could receive and the options available to you will enhance your prospects of achieving the best possible outcome having regard to the circumstances of your case.

You should engage an experienced criminal lawyer as soon as you become aware that you are the subject of an investigation. A lawyer with practical day-to-day experience of Victoria’s criminal justice system will be able to provide you with sound advice to protect your rights and serve your interests. This includes how you should approach your police interview, what to do to prepare for your case at court and ultimately, whether you should plead guilty or contest the charges.

At Stary Norton Halphen, our lawyers work exclusively in the field of criminal law. Their experience of the area is diverse and they work on cases across all Victorian courts, namely the Children’s Court, the Magistrates’ Court, the County Court and the Supreme Court. Importantly, they regularly conduct their own advocacy, meaning they have a well-rounded and comprehensive understanding of the law and how it is applied.

2. How will hiring you benefit my case?

Before hiring any criminal lawyer, you should ask them what impact their representation will have on your case.  Given one of the primary duties of a lawyer is to act in their client’s best interests, the way in which they answer the question will help you understand how they can assist you and whether your best interests will be served by their representation of you.

A competent criminal lawyer will clearly outline to you how they will help you. They will:

  • give you a basic understanding of the process you are facing;
  • explain to you that it is their role to assist you in understanding the case against you and whether or not you have a defence;
  • provide their opinion as to your prospects of successfully defending the charge and the range of possible penalties you face should you plead guilty or in the event you are found guilty
  • explain to you that they will act in accordance with your instructions and work towards achieving the best result that is possible having regard to your instructions and the circumstances of your case.

3. What can I do to help myself?

At Stary Norton Halphen we understand that being charged with an offence can be a most unsettling experience and, in some instances, the worst experience a person ever has. We also understand that being charged with an offence may serve as a catalyst for change. Keeping these matters in mind we often provide people with advice as to:

  • supports they can access to help them get through the process. Often counselling is needed simply to help a person come to terms with the fact they have been charged with an offence and also to help them to manage their emotions over the time their case is before the court; or
  • where appropriate, the supports they can access to help them address an issue which resulted in their offending, such as a mental health problem or an issue with addiction.

Given clients of criminal lawyers routinely face challenges, referring clients for treatment and support is an important part of a criminal lawyer’s job. Accordingly, establishing and maintaining supports will help you get through your case and where applicable, that is if you decide to plead guilty, will assist your case in court.  Evidence of rehabilitation and support is often the basis for a penalty being reduced or to put it another way you can help yourself get a better result. To that end you should always ask your lawyer how you can help yourself. An experienced criminal lawyer will guide you in the right direction.

4. What kind of legal work will you do for me?

Before hiring a criminal lawyer, you should inform yourself about the nature of the service with which the will provide you.  A lawyers’ work is not confined solely to court room advocacy but also includes an immense amount of work that occurs behind the scenes. If you ask them about it, they will explain it to you, which in turn will help you gauge their level experience and what they will do to assist you.

Generally, once you have engaged a lawyer to act for you, they will obtain the brief of evidence, including the charge sheets, from Victoria Police or as the case may be some other authority such as the Australian Federal Police, WorkCover, TAC, RSPCA or even your local council.   Your lawyer will then engage in the process of carefully analysing all the evidence in the case against you which may include witness statements, photographs, interviews, CCTV footage.  Finally, they will then convey your options to you in a way that you will understand.

If you decide to plead guilty to a charge following the receipt of advice from your lawyer, they will immediately commence preparing you for your plea hearing at court. This may include obtaining medical reports, letters of support from friends, family or your employer, treatment reports, psychological reports and/or having you attend a course or obtain drug screens. 

Being prepared for court is a critical part of a lawyer’s job. It is absolutely necessary to protect your rights and to give you every opportunity of getting the best possible outcome at court.  

5. What’s the difference between a criminal lawyer and a barrister?

A criminal lawyer (also known as a solicitor) works at a law firm and once you instruct them to act for you, they will generally hold your file for the duration of your case and will be your main point of contact for advice and legal support.  In some instances, a criminal lawyer will be the only lawyer you engage with throughout the entirety of your case. That is, they will prepare your case for court and also appear at court on your behalf.

A criminal barrister, however, is a specialist who is engaged by a lawyer to assist in a particular part of your case such as a contested hearing, a committal or a trial. Barristers are briefed by your lawyer to appear at these kinds of hearings because such hearings require specialist knowledge of evidence and contested advocacy which barristers have.  

At Stary Norton Halphen we routinely work with barristers of all different levels of experience and with expertise in different types of crimes, ranging from drug trafficking to sexual assault, white collar crime to homicide and more.  Accordingly, when your matter progresses to a contest or a trial, we are well placed to ensure that you are represented by an expert who has the right skill set and knowledge to defend you and to do so both thoroughly and robustly.