Most people charged with a crime don’t choose their own lawyer. Instead, they have to rely on the lawyer the court appoints. Whether a court picks your lawyer or you hire your own, how do you know if your lawyer is doing a good job? The answer to that question depends on many factors.
Who will represent you in a criminal case?
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees you the right to a lawyer in a criminal case. This gives you the chance to hire a lawyer of your own choosing. Some lawyers only represent people charged with a crime as their full-time job. Other lawyers represent people charged with a crime as part of their job but also work in other areas of law.
But the right to a lawyer exists even if you can’t afford to hire your own lawyer, too. Sometimes courts appoint private attorneys who represent people like you as part of their work. Courts may also appoint public defenders who represent clients who can’t afford a lawyer. Courts select these lawyers at random and will not give you a chance to pick.
Finally, you can also choose to represent yourself.
How do you know if your lawyer is doing a good job?
The hope is that your lawyer works hard on your case and does well. That is often what actually happens. But sometimes it’s not. Knowing when your lawyer is not doing a good job is important to understand.
The most common problem between lawyers and clients focuses on communication. You may go days, weeks or even months without hearing from your lawyer in some cases. This is not ideal. While it does not necessarily mean your lawyer is doing anything wrong, it is a concern. Your lawyer needs to understand everything involved in your case. And they can’t do that without talking to you.
Unfortunately, incarcerated people routinely complain about lawyer communication. Sometimes this is because prisons aren’t designed to allow good communication. But it can also be because prosecutors and prison officials listen to attorney-client phone calls.
If you have been in jail or prison for several months and haven’t heard from your lawyer, it’s okay to worry. You can call your lawyer. And you can also contact the court.
What can you do if your lawyer isn’t doing a good job?
In most cases, it’s best to speak directly to your lawyer if you don’t think they are doing a good job. Good lawyers will listen to your concerns and try to improve. But, if they don’t, you can also raise the issue in court. In court, you can raise the issue formally or informally.
If you raise the issue formally, it will likely come in the form of a motion for substitute counsel. In the motion, you prove that the attorney-client relationship has broken. This can be hard to prove. Some defendants have asked for a new attorney because their lawyer believed that they were guilty. The defendant believes that the lawyer is manipulating the case to support this. Most of the time, that won’t be enough. Instead, you need to show proof of conflict of interest or that your lawyer has done something so bad that it has hurt your case.
If you raise the issue informally, you will basically just let the Court know about the problem. The Court may not do anything at that time. But at least the Court will be aware of the issue if there are future problems.
You have a constitutional right to a lawyer in criminal cases. You can hire your own lawyer, or a court can appoint one for you. It can be hard to tell if your lawyer is doing a good job. But if they aren’t communicating, acting in your best interests or do something else that makes you uncomfortable, you can let the Court know.