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Last Updated on: 5th December 2023, 08:36 pm
How to Check a Criminal Defense Attorney’s Background in New Jersey
Finding the right criminal defense attorney in New Jersey can feel overwhelming. Your freedom, reputation, and future are on the line, so you need someone experienced, trustworthy, and dedicated to fighting for you. Before hiring any attorney, it’s essential to do your research and thoroughly vet their background. This article provides tips on how to check a New Jersey criminal defense lawyer’s credentials, disciplinary history, client reviews, and more.
Verify Licensure and Standing with the New Jersey Bar Association
The first step is to confirm the attorney is licensed to practice law in New Jersey. All attorneys must register with the New Jersey Bar Association to legally provide legal services in the state. You can easily verify an attorney’s standing by searching the New Jersey Lawyer Directory.
Make sure the lawyer has an “Active” status. Any disciplinary actions against them will also be listed there. If their license was ever suspended or revoked, proceed with extreme caution.
Look Up Their Record with the Disciplinary Review Board
Every state has a disciplinary board that handles complaints against lawyers. In New Jersey, it’s called the Disciplinary Review Board. This board investigates allegations of unethical conduct and recommends sanctions when necessary.
Search for the attorney’s name on the Disciplinary Review Board website to uncover any public discipline records. Things like reprimands, suspensions, and disbarment will appear here. One or two minor infractions over many years of practice is understandable. But serious or repeated discipline is a red flag.
Search for Malpractice Lawsuits and Other Court Records
Has the attorney been sued for malpractice or other civil wrongs? That’s public record too. Head to the New Jersey Courts website and search for lawsuits filed against the lawyer.
You can also search Pacer, the federal court records database. High numbers of lawsuits suggest you should keep looking. But don’t write someone off for one or two suits over a long career, especially if they practice criminal defense. Lawsuits come with the territory.
Read Online Reviews from Former Clients
Client reviews on sites like Avvo and Lawyers.com offer valuable insight into an attorney’s skills and temperament. However, always take reviews with a grain of salt. No lawyer wins every case, and unhappy clients are more likely to vent online. Focus on patterns in the reviews rather than a couple negative ones.
Ask the Attorney for References from Past Clients
The best way to gauge an attorney’s abilities is to speak with their prior clients. A good lawyer should be happy to provide references. Ask for three or four people to contact who faced similar charges as you.
Speaking directly to someone they represented gives you a chance to ask questions and hear first-hand what the experience was like. How did they communicate? Were they responsive? Did they truly fight for their client?
Research Their Background and Credentials
Where did the attorney study law and when did they graduate? How long have they practiced criminal defense? What percentage of their workload is dedicated to criminal law? These are all important questions.
Look for lawyers who focus exclusively on criminal defense, or at least devote over 50% of their time to it. Check their website bio and LinkedIn profile for credentials. Then verify anything that seems suspicious or unclear.
It’s perfectly fine for a lawyer to have 10, 20, or 30+ years experience. Newer attorneys can be excellent too. But you don’t want someone fresh out of law school handling serious felony charges.
Meet with Them in Person Before Deciding
Never hire a criminal defense lawyer without meeting them in person first. Pay attention to how they speak with you. Are they engaged and empathetic or distracted and impersonal? Do you feel comfortable opening up about sensitive topics? In your gut, do you feel they are someone you can trust?
Ask plenty of questions about their track record with cases like yours. Gauge their confidence and knowledge. Make sure they have a clear strategy in mind for mounting your defense.
Vetting a lawyer’s background takes time and diligence. But it’s necessary homework that can pay off tremendously in the quality of legal representation you receive. With your freedom on the line, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Do your research, trust your instincts, and don’t rush this crucial decision.