Choosing a solicitor

 

We have decided to publish a series of blogs dealing with the most frequently asked questions about the practicalities of obtaining representation in a criminal case and how you should go about choosing a solicitor.

This first one deals with the most common first experience of needing representation which will usually be at the police station.

Future blogs will take you through the process of representation in the Magistrates’ Court and the Crown Court.

Choosing who should represent you is probably one of the most important decisions that you will make. It is essential that you are happy with and confident in your solicitor.

Many people who find themselves facing criminal charges have never been in trouble before and have no idea how to find a good solicitor.

Here are some tips for you –

 

How can I find a solicitor?

There are many ways but here are some examples of what we consider to be the best place to start:

  •  Ask around – word of mouth recommendation is probably one of the best ways to find a good solicitor. Do however make sure that the solicitor recommended to you is a criminal defence solicitor and not one who drafted your neighbours’ will three years ago.
  • Do an internet search. Most firms have a website and you can tell a lot about a firm by the information they have on their website and this should help you decide whether the firm is experienced in criminal defence.
  • Go on the Law Society website where you can ‘find a solicitor’.
  • Look through the Yellow Pages/yell.com

The single most important thing that you should establish when instructing a solicitor to represent you is that they are experienced in criminal defence.

Most solicitors will either offer you a free initial appointment or at the very least be willing to talk to you over the telephone. This can be a good way for you to establish the experience and expertise of that solicitor.

 

How should I choose a solicitor at the police station?

If you have never been in trouble before the chances are when you get arrested and taken to the police station you will have no idea who to contact for legal advice and representation.

You will be asked by the custody sergeant if you want a solicitor. We always advise that you say yes. Many people worry that if they say yes it will either take longer or make them look guilty. It doesn’t and it won’t.  You need a solicitor because they will obtain information from the police about what you are alleged to have done. They will then be able to advise you on the law, whether you have a defence and how to deal with the interview. Even when you think you have nothing to hide and don’t need a solicitor, they can help put your defence forward.

Others may think because they are guilty they should just confess and do not need a solicitor. The solicitor is expert at determining whether the police can prove your guilt. Confessions are not easy to exclude later on and you will be very upset if you are later advised that the only evidence against you is the confession that you made to the police in interview.

If you don’t already have your own criminal solicitor you can ask for the duty solicitor or your family or friends can contact a solicitor who specialises in criminal defence.

Many people think that the duty solicitor by his/her very nature is a second-rate police appointed solicitor. They’re not. Don’t be prejudiced; make your own mind up. All our solicitors are also duty solicitors.

A duty solicitor is entirely independent from the police. He or she is a solicitor in private practice who is an approved member of the duty solicitor scheme run by the Legal Service Commission. Once a person is sufficiently experienced in criminal defence work they can apply to become a duty solicitor. Once they are approved they will be placed on a rota. The rota ensures there is access to a specialist independent criminal solicitor day and night.

 

How do I know if the solicitor who represented me at the police station is any good?

You can probably trust your own judgement on this. Did they appear to know what they were talking about? Did they give you clear advice? Did you understand that advice?  Did they listen to you? Did they tell you about the wider implications of your case, for example what you can expect to happen next?

Don’t be afraid to ask the solicitor when you meet them what kind of experience they have in dealing with the type of case you have been arrested for.

 

Do I have to stay with the solicitor that I had for my initial interview?

No and if you are not happy with them, nor should you. If you are unhappy with your original solicitor you should find a new solicitor that you are happy with.  Please remember to ensure they specialise in criminal defence. If you do not want to stay with the solicitor who represented you at the police station, do not sign legal aid forms with them. Once legal aid has been granted it is very difficult to transfer it to another firm.

On the other hand if you are happy and confident in them, having continuity in representation right from the outset can be a big advantage.

 

I have agreed to attend the police station by appointment – how do I get a solicitor?

You can do this in two ways:

  • You can choose a solicitor of your choice to come to the police station with you. That solicitor will then attend with you for your appointment and represent you free of charge. This is generally the quickest way of doing it because the solicitor will be there with you from the beginning and you will not have to wait for the duty solicitor to be called and thereafter attend the police station for you. Or;
  • You can ask for the duty solicitor when you get to the police station. The problem with doing this is that the police are likely to put you in a cell whilst they wait for the duty solicitor to be contacted and to travel to the custody centre which in reality takes a minimum of an hour.

 

If I have a solicitor at the police station do I have to pay for it?

No. A solicitor will represent you at the police station free of charge regardless of your means. Whether they will come to the police station in person largely depends on what you have been arrested for and whether you are going to be interviewed. If the police are going to interview you will always be entitled to a solicitor to represent you in person free of charge.

 

If you have any questions relating to this blog that you feel we haven’t covered and would like to know about, please leave your comments below. 

 

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