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7 questions to ask when hiring a criminal attorney in Cape Town

Are you are looking for a Criminal Attorney in Cape Town? Or maybe the best criminal attorney in Cape Town? Whether you are looking for a cheap criminal lawyer in Cape Town or affordable lawyers Cape Town or criminal attorneys Bellville, we have a solution to your legal problem.

Do you know how to assess the criminal attorney you are currently considering? Do you know what attributes, skills or experience to look for? What questions to ask, what signs to look out for?

If you do not know what to look for, we have some suggestions, which we consider to be the most important questions you should ask in order to ensure that the attorney you want to contract, has the skills and legal expertise you really need.

Often clients will be referred to an attorney by someone else. That someone else could be a previous client of the attorney. Sometimes this person has never even been a client the attorney he is now referring to. Word of mouth is still a very powerful referral tool in the legal industry. Unfortunately there is no way to determine the quality of the attorney from the referral .

Regardless of how you came to the attorney you now want to contract, you need to assess your attorney with a set of independent objective questions and values which can inform you if your criminal attorney is the one you need or not.

Without further ado , we then proceed to propose our list of all important questions you need to look at to assess the competence of your criminal attorney.

1. Does your criminal attorney specialize in criminal law?

Similar to doctors, where you have general practitioners “gp’s” , surgeons and brain surgeons etc , attorneys come in a variety of specialties. One cannot say that all doctors are alike. Using the same example you will not go to a general practitioner if you want to remove a brain tumor.

The same goes for an attorney. Attorneys who are general practitioners, do a bit of everything. They have a vast pool of experience over a broad spectrum. Given the nature of their practice they will most certainly have experience in criminal law. There are some general practitioners that are really good at criminal law.

The argument here is one of time. Where an attorney spends most of his time he will develop most of his skill, knowledge, experience and expertise. It is therefore logical to say that if an attorney specializes in criminal law, and only does criminal law – that is where his in depth knowledge and experience will be.

Since you are having a criminal legal problem, you will want someone that has extensive skills and experience with criminal law. Having a good divorce lawyer is not going to help you with your criminal court case, for more than one reason.

Below is an example of a question to ask in this regard.

What are the areas of practice your firm practices in?

2. How well Is your criminal attorney known in the industry?

A criminal attorney whom neither magistrates nor prosecutors have ever heard of can be a real scary prospect when it comes to the effect that this might have on your freedom in the long run.

It is not possible for an attorney to be specializing in criminal law every day and then to be completely unknown to all prosecutors, magistrates and police investigators.

Keep in mind, some criminal attorneys specialize in criminal law in specific jurisdictional areas. For instance in Cape Town Magistrates court, there are attorneys who specialize in criminal law only in the Cape Town Magistrates court. These attorneys do not accept any instructions outside of Cape Town. The same applies for instance to Mitchells Plain Magistrates court and other courts all over South Africa. So bear this in mind in your search as well as this may also be of assistance to you.

If the attorney you have in mind is well known in the criminal justice system by the role players involved, it surely is a good sign that you are one the right track.

The question in this regard to your attorney would be?

1. In which courts (areas of jurisdiction) are you well known?

You as the client can then follow up on the information to confirm if you like.

3. How much experience your attorney has as a criminal attorney

It goes without saying that the more years experience a criminal attorney has, the better he /she should be at doing criminal trials in the criminal courts. It is a very important factor to assess in order to establish the level of competence you are dealing with.

The longer any person deals with one particular aspect of law, the finer and deeper his /her expertise will develop in that field. This has tremendous benefits to the client. This often makes the difference in the outcome of the matter.

Many attorneys start in one field and then move to another and later to yet another until one fine day they settle down and start specializing. Its important to enquire how much experience your attorney has in criminal law, since this is the field of expertise you require.

The question to ask your criminal attorney is:

1. How long have you been involved in criminal law specifically?

2. How long have you been specializing in criminal law?

4. How much experience your criminal Attorney has in your specific crime

Not all crimes are created equal. Different crimes also have varying degrees of severity of sentence. There are crimes that fall within the Minimum Sentence legislation for instance, such as Murder, Rape where a sentence of life imprisonment has been prescribed by law. Other crimes such as armed robbery carries a mandatory 15 years imprisonment sentence upon conviction according to the same Minimum Sentence Legislation.

Crimes like Rape, certain commercial crimes such as Fraud, and Tax related matters for instance, are then further also prosecuted by specialist prosecutors in specialty courts which ONLY deal with those crimes.

Rape cases are dealt with in special so called “sexual offenses courts”. These sexual offense courts only deals with sexual offense matters. The prosecutors in sexual offense courts are especially trained and regularly up skilled to deal with ONLY sexual offense cases. These prosecutors have an array of special skills to deal with the unique challenges that those matters pose.

The all important question you then need to ask yourself is what are the skills and expertise that your attorney brings to the table to counter act the challenges you will be facing? Given the fact that you will be facing a formidable force in the prosecution in court who specialise not only in criminal law, but in a specific subset of crimes, you now need to find out and ask about the experience your attorney has in that specific field

Although I have made some emphasis on sexual offense matters, the same principles apply to Commercial crimes such as fraud. It also applies to gang related matters, and Tax related matters such as VAT fraud. It further applies to abalone matters under the Sea Fisheries Act. All of these crimes are dealt with by special prosecutors trained to specialize in their respective field.

The question in this regard that you need to pose to your attorney are:

1. Have you dealt with trials of this specific crime?

2. How many trials and / or years experience have you had with this specific crime?

3. Is there one case that stands out to you in this regard?

4. What were the circumstances and outcome of this matter?

5. Which different appointments has your criminal attorney had?

Many criminal attorneys today, who have been around the block a few times, have acted in many different appointments through the years. Some attorneys have had appointments as magistrates, some as prosecutors at some stage. Some criminal attorneys have had appointments at Legal Aid SA and various appointments within the criminal justice system. Others again have only been attorneys in private practice their entire professional life.

What do the different appointments show you ? The different appointments that a criminal attorney carries gives you an excellent idea of the depth and character of the experience that attorney has gained over the years.

It shows from how many different angles the attorney gained experience over the years. An attorney who at some stage also worked as the clerk of the criminal court will have an in depth understanding of the administrative side of the criminal justice system. Similarly a criminal attorney who also prosecuted as a prosecutor for the National Prosecuting authority will have an in-depth understanding of the investigation and prosecution side of criminal matters.

These experiences enrich the quality of your criminal attorney and the depth of his/her knowledge. As a client you receive untold benefits from your attorney’s understanding and knowing the system in all its fine print. Your attorney will be able to anticipate problems and solutions far better than someone who does not have this knowledge. Your attorney would also be able to detect problems such as fraud with the system and issues such as over reach much easier and faster as your attorney knows exactly how the system works, what is allowed and what not.

The value of an attorney with a wide and rich experience cannot be over stated. It is really worth its weight in gold .

Questions to ask your criminal attorney?

1. Which different appointments have you had in the criminal justice system?

2. How long were those appointments?

3. What crimes did you mostly deal with during those appointments?

6. Media coverage of cases

It is important to note that not all crimes are reported in the media. Only the most sensational of matters find their way into the newspapers and the TV media. The media will not be reporting on matters that does not have something sensational in it. That being said – it is important to note that this is not a make or brake factor in your personal assessment of the competence of your criminal attorney.

This is only intended as an additional factor to judge the spectrum of the experience and exposure of your attorney. A google search on your attorney may yield some interesting and enlightening information.

Some criminal attorneys quite literally make a living by always being in the media, while other criminal attorneys make a living by doing exactly the opposite and stays out of the media.

Doing a google search for the attorney you intend on instructing will give you a broad idea of reported matters in the media and how those played out. Information and outcomes of various matters can be screened by searching google on some attorneys.

It is important to note that many attorneys will simply not be found anywhere on the internet. This has no bearing on their experience or quality of work. Some attorneys just don’t want to be on the internet or the media. It is their personal choice.

Questions to ask your attorney / Google:

1. Do you have any matters that were reported on in the media?

2. What was the outcome of these matters?.

7. Reputation in the criminal justice system

As in every industry, every attorney has a reputation that precedes him or her. The trick here is to speak to the correct people to obtain an unbiased, fair assessment of your prospective criminal attorney. The word in the street might be tempting to follow, but often this is only the start in the process of assessing the competence and value of your criminal attorney.

Enquiring from other attorneys in the industry, as well as prosecutors and police men and women can yield valuable information. The clerks who sit in court every day can be invaluable in divulging information as to which attorney actually fights for their clients and who does not. The same goes to the interpreters of the courts. All of these individuals sit in court every day, observing many trials. They bear witness to the ups and down of many a trial.

It does not take a rocket scientist to observe and know that an attorney is doing a good job in court. Anybody, who regularly sits in court, will be able to assess and provide such invaluable information.

In order to assess the reputation of your prospective criminal attorney , you will need to ask some questions.

An example of some questions you may ask regarding your prospective criminal attorney?

1. Do you think that Mr X is a good attorney?

2. Would you make use of Mr X if you had a criminal case.

3. How does Mr X fight in court?

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