The Criminal Process: Part I – Getting an Attorney

There are few things in life that are worse than having to contact a criminal attorney.  It usually means that you, a friend, or a close family member has been arrested (or is going to be arrested) by the police.  Unfortunately, it also suggests a large outlay of money, sleepless nights, the possibility of a criminal record and maybe going to prison.  There is the added embarrassment of the arrest making the local newspaper.

Nonetheless, contacting an attorney is crucial.  No one should ever turn oneself in to the police or go to court without having a criminal attorney at his/her side.  The chances that something will go wrong are too great to want to risk this.  The old saying that “a person who represents himself in court has a fool for a client,” is never more true than in the criminal process.

So, the first rule is “Don’t Procrastinate.”  Not only does your own anxiety start to build, but the earlier the attorney is retained, the faster that lawyer can begin to help you with your case.  Many times you will find out that your greatest fears will not be realized and that you either have a good chance of winning the case or just paying a fine or doing probation – no jail.

How does one go about getting a criminal attorney with the experience that will meet your needs?  For most people, the fee will also be an important factor.  Initially you should try to contact an attorney that you know.  This may come about because you know a criminal attorney and feel comfortable with him/her or you have a friend or family member who has had to use one and can offer a recommendation.  You may also know a non-criminal attorney, in whom you have confidence, who will be able to make a referral.

In the event that you are not able to find an attorney through various contacts, the next option is either the yellow pages or, more likely in today’s world, the internet.  By googling “criminal attorney” you will be faced with many pages of attorneys.  Keep in mind that those attorneys at the top are the ones who usually have paid the most in advertising.  And while you should start with an attorney with an office in the county where the crime occurred (because he/she will be more familiar with the court procedure, the District Attorney, and/or the judge), you do not need to limit your search for that one location.  For instance, if the crime occurred in Philadelphia a Delaware or Bucks county lawyer may be as good as long as they have some experience in Philadelphia.  Also, if you live outside the county where the crime occurred, convenience in meeting with your attorney may be a factor.

You should not limit your search to one attorney.  Call several attorneys as part of the search.  Try to speak directly to the attorney or have him/her call you back.  You can give the attorney an outline of the facts as you know them and can possibly get some idea of what may happen.  While fees may be discussed, keep in mind that once you have visited the attorney personally, that fee may change as the lawyer learns more details.  I would also strongly suggest that when you make your call be in a room alone.  If there is someone with you that person, if the police find out about it, can be called as a witness to what you told the attorney; however,  anything you have told the lawyer is completely confidential.  At that time you can, if you feel comfortable, make an appointment.  In these times, given the COVID-19 pandemic, you may need to have your appointment through Zoom or Facetime.  Remember, no one can be with you while discussing your case.  I always make it a point on my first meeting to keep the client’s family members, friends, or others out of the room.  This also pertains to parents of a juvenile client.

Once you feel comfortable that the attorney is the person you wish to represent you, the fee will be discussed.  You will be required to sign a fee agreement outlining what the attorney will do and how the fee is to be paid.  Some attorneys may charge a straight one time fee, others may charge by the hour or appearance. The fee agreement will usually not cover any post trial matters such as appeals.

Keep in mind that failure to pay as set out in the agreement will allow the attorney to remove himself from the case.  You also have the right to dismiss the attorney if not satisfied with the work, although you will owe him for the work already done, including any retainer.

If you have any questions regarding this please feel free to call Lawrence R. Dworkin at 610-357-3506 or email at

The above is a general interpretation of the law.  Each case is different and the above may not apply to your situation.  Again, if you are arrested for a drug or any other offense consult an attorney as soon as possible. 

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