Going Out on Your Own as a Criminal Defence Lawyer Part Three

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This blog follows on from blogs of 24/04/2013 (part one) and 26/04/2013 (part two).

Again, they are just tips and may not be for everyone!

Tip 7) Engage an SEO Expert

Continuing with the internet theme, which I believe is the way of the future, you should consider engaging an expert in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) to ensure that your website pages rank well with search engines, such as Google and Yahoo.

I suggest you pay between $300 and $800 per month for an SEO plan.

Are paid search engine listings worth it?

You may have heard of Google Adwords, which are paid listings on Google.

Paid listings are those you see at the top of Google searches (against a coloured background) and also down the right-hand side.

I don’t use paid listings as I believe they lack credibility and are not good for your firm in the long run.

Users often avoid clicking on paid listings because they know that the business has paid for their place rather than ranked well naturally.

I believe its much better to optimize your site for ‘natural’ searches rather than pay for listings.

As a side-note, I see that several criminal law firms that rely heavily on paid listings have steadily decreased their numbers of employed lawyers – presumably due to decreasing clients.

Paid listings can also be very expensive; money that can be better spent elsewhere.

Tip 8) Get funds into trust before working

There is a good reason for the saying: ‘no money, no mouthpiece’.

The reason is simple – if you don’t get funds into trust before working on cases, you are unlikely to ever be paid for your hard work.

As criminal lawyers, we have a moral obligation to undertake legal aid work and free work under the pro bono scheme.

But unfortunately, many people who can afford to pay their legal bills will avoid doing so after their cases are finalised – regardless of the result.

As I said in a part 2 (tip 5), I can’t tell you the number of times I wasn’t paid in the early years.

I’ve won difficult cases and been told ‘I should never have been charged by police, why should I pay?’. I would tell my clients ‘but it wasn’t me who charged you, it was police!’.

I’ve obtained less than optimal outcomes, through no fault of mine, and been told ‘I didn’t get the result I wanted, why should I pay?’.

I’ve gotten people out of custody ‘on bail’ in very difficult circumstances and their families have paid large sums of money for bail eg $20,000 or $50,000 within hours, but avoided paying my relatively modest fees despite the time and effort I invested.

I recall a case I had in my early years when a family approached me to attempt to get their son out of custody (‘bail’) for a serious assault. He had a barrister and solicitor who advised him that (a) he had no chance at getting bail and (b) he was looking to get 12 – 15 months of full time prison custody.

I remember that I was engaged on 29 November of that year and got their son out of custody on bail the very next day. The surety was his grandmother who paid a cash security of $5,000.

His family assured me that my fees would be paid at the end of the case once the bail money was returned. I succeeded in having the most serious assault charge withdrawn and my client ended up getting a ‘section 9 bond’ (a good behaviour bond); which was an outstanding result in the circumstances.

The bail security was released to his grandmother. My client then advised me that his grandmother ‘accidentally through the bag with the money in a bin’ and they could not find it. A joke? No, I’m serious. I was never paid for the case.

To avoid frustration, soured-relations and financial hardship you simply must get funds into trust before working on privately funded cases.

Tip 9) Do Your Best in Every Case

So you’ve bought a business name, a domain name, produced a good website, rented an office near a court, set up a trust accounting system and templates, and engaged an SEO expert.

What next? Simple – do your best!

You will only build a good reputation and succeed in the long term if you put your heart and soul into every case you undertake.

You must do everything ethically possible to have cases withdrawn at an early stage.

If your client wishes to plead guilty, you must guide them towards doing what’s required to minimise the damage and work hard to get the best possible result.

If you have a defended hearing, you must always take the time to prepare thoroughly and fight hard in court.

I recall the disappointment of my former employer when I won a ‘defended committal’ for a client who allegedly murdered another inmate in prison.

A ‘defended committal’ is a hearing in the local court to decide whether there is enough evidence for a case to proceed to a higher court, such as the District or Supreme Court.

She was disappointed because the case didn’t go to a jury trial when the firm would have made a lot more money.

I was also discouraged from drafting detailed ‘representations’; which is a document you send to the prosecution requesting withdrawal of charges.

My firm Sydney Criminal Lawyers® has been built upon fighting for the best result for every single client – rather than making money.

When a criminal lawyer commences employment with us, they are given a document titled ‘Policies and Procedures’ which makes it crystal clear that we are a results-based firm and that we work hard to get results, rather than focus on making money.

Those of my team who previously worked for other firms are always surprised to hear this!

I remember speaking with a well-known criminal defence lawyer a few years ago outside Manly Court who said to me: ‘I just take it to the first day and get the punter to plead’.

What does that mean?

It means that he doesn’t push for withdrawal of charges, but allows the case to run all the way to a ‘defended hearing’ and then advises the client to plead guilty on the morning of the hearing.

He thereby gets all of the money for the defended hearing, and for the numerous unnecessary prior court dates and for the months of unnecessary legal fees – not to mention months of unneccessary anxiety for the client!

Needless to say, you must always push for the withdrawal of charges at an early stage.

You must always prepare thoroughly for defended hearings, rather than anticipate a plea of guilty on the morning of the hearing.

Put your heart and soul into every case and the results and referrals will follow.

Tip 10) Communicate

Sounds simple doesn’t it?

Hundreds of complaints are made against lawyers each year due to their failure to properly communicate with clients.

Client communication is paramount.

If you were facing a situation that could dramatically affect your life, you would expect to be fully informed about your options and updated regularly.

Call your clients regularly, even if there is no substantial update in their cases.

Respond to their messages and emails as soon as possible, always on the same day if possible.

Criminal cases are organic – the state of the evidence and available options frequently change throughout the process. Ensure your clients are fully aware of the state of their case, the future course and their options throughout the process.

Ensure that any plea offer is fully explained– whether that offer is made by you on behalf of your client, or received from the prosecution.

In more serious cases or where your client is unsure about their plea, take time to explain the evidence, the law and all options. Obtain written instructions before entering a plea of guilty, and before confirming any not guilty plea when you believe that a guilty plea is the best option.

Hope this helps!

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Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with 25 years of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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