What Should You Look For When Considering Retaining An Attorney?
Interviewer: I see advertisements saying, “We’re aggressive.” “We’ll treat you like family.” “We fight for you.” Do you think an aggressive attorney is the best way to go? So, if you needed an attorney, you were facing criminal charge, what would you look for and why?
Paul Geller: I would look for the most well rounded attorney – someone who can be aggressive when they need to, someone who knows the system and has experience in and out, in the system and how the system works. By system, I mean the particular courthouses that that case may be going to; familiarity of and relationships with, from a social standpoint, those prosecutors and judges; and someone that I feel once I meet that I would feel really has my best interest in mind.
I think it’s important for clients to ultimately go with people that they feel comfortable with in their gut. Again, that doesn’t always mean the most aggressive attorney because I can tell you, having been a prosecutor, if I had a defense attorney come in and kick and scream right away about how a case should be dismissed, that would be the attorney who would get the least bit of my attention, I would be probably the most vigorous about, in terms of trying ensure a conviction as opposed to an attorney that I may have had a knowledge of and respect for who I could sit down and rationally talk about a case with.
I think that mileage that you can get from an attorney that has both the right balance of all of those things will certainly do more for the client ultimately. It may take time, but that’s knowing the system and knowing how the system works as opposed to simply finding the “most aggressive attorney.”
Interviewer: Great. How would compare public defender versus representing yourself versus a private attorney? What’s the good and the bad of these situations?
Paul Geller: Well, I think representing yourself is never a good idea, even with the legal experience. Even if you were a lawyer, you would not want to represent yourself because it creates a perception, if the case were to go to trial, for instance, where the jury would probably not accept the credibility of the person.
As for the difference between a private attorney and a public defender or a court-appointed lawyer, it’s really a question of having the right person representing you. There are very good public defenders out there. There are very good private attorneys out there. There are very bad public defenders and there are very bad private attorneys.
So, I generally say, if you can hire a private attorney, do so, because you will usually get more attention to your case. You will usually get more one-on-one conversations with the lawyer. Oftentimes, it’s very difficult to get a hold of public defenders, which I’ve heard from clients that I have represented who have had them represent them before, simply because they have such a high volume of cases at one time. It’s very difficult to give a client that type of attention.
That doesn’t mean hire any private attorney. I will almost always talk to potential clients and give them some time on the phone and if it’s a situation where they cannot afford me, I always give them a warning of, and it’s not meant as a scare tactic, it’s the truth: You can price shop this down to something that is completely affordable for you or for a potential client, but in reality, is really wasting your money. You would be much better off with a public defender to get maybe even better representation than the cheap lawyer and you wouldn’t be out the money.
So, it’s really more about hiring the right lawyer and unfortunately, like anything in this world, it does cost money to do so. Having said that, there are some good public defenders out there. The most frustrating thing for me is to see someone who can’t really afford me or a quality private attorney and they become lured into thinking having a private attorney is the way to go and they waste, oftentimes, thousands of dollars on someone who really does not have their best interest at hand.
Interviewer: I know you can’t give percentages, but how often are you able to get a result for a client that leaves them better off than they were before you started representing them?
Paul Geller: I would say ninety-nine percent of the time, if not a hundred. When a person has been arrested, their lives have been turned upside down, or they’re going to be arrested, or an investigation is taking place, I can always make things better. There’s obviously degree of victory, if you will, with every particular situation, but having someone who’s experienced and knowledgeable is vital to, not only what happens to the person immediately, in dealing with the case, but every other aspect of their life – socially, professionally.
Years from now when they’re applying for a job or some other type of event taking place in their life, to be able to know that they were represented with quality and got a good result – that’s my passion and what keeps me going. Being able to counsel people in the situation at hand and then know that over the course of the rest of their lives this does not create such a blemish that they are simply part of the criminal justice system in and out of that revolving door.