Changing Your Criminal Defense Lawyer: Some Observations

Oh weary reader, whether here in Atlanta, throughout Georgia or anywhere else in these United States.  You know how I go on about various aspects of federal crimes, criminal defense, criminal appeals and post-conviction matters, and the job of being a criminal defense lawyer.  Today I want to talk about what happens when a person is thinking about changing the criminal defense lawyer who is currently representing them.

I fortunately get many calls from people about their criminal cases.  Some want a little free advice, some are looking to hire an attorney for the first time, and some are dissatisfied with the way their current attorney is handling the matter.  Here and here are posts I have published on questions that clients might want to ask when first deciding on whether they should hire a particular criminal defense lawyer.  

I always try to listen as much as possible when people contact me, especially if I already know the attorney who is already working on their case.  In many ways, I almost see myself like a marriage or relationship counselor when someone calls me and is complaining about the lawyer they already hired to represent them in a criminal matter. I try to identify why the client is not happy with their current lawyer, and want to see if the client is possibly having unrealistic expectations, or whether he for she is properly concerned about the advice our performance of the lawyer they want to replace.  Remember, we are all human, we all make mistakes, and even the best lawyers sometimes just don’t get along with all of their clients.  Whether the problem in the relationship is the client, the lawyer, or both of them, I always try to be sensitive to the fact that the client might well be better served if he or she keeps working with the attorney who is already on the case.

Changing lawyers is stressful, and often increases the client’s expenses.  When someone asks me to take a case over from another attorney, I essentially need to “re-learn” everything that the earlier lawyer already knows.  This takes time, and increases costs.  Sometimes, clients contact me after a case has been going on for quite a while, and I need to decide fairly quickly whether there is enough time for me to “get up to speed.”  Some Judges are sympathetic to letting a new attorney have enough time to take over and prepare, but not all are.

I try to help people, and if someone wants me to take a case over from another lawyer, I need to make a pretty quick decision as to whether that is in the client’s best interest.  Sometimes, I feel that I could make a difference and will take over the case, but there are other times when I advise the person to remain with their current lawyer.  As always, it is the best interest of the client that is the most important thing to consider in these situations.