My ability to successfully defend you depends in large measure on how effectively and efficiently you and I communicate with each other. Here are tips to help me help you.
Our First Meeting
The first meeting is usually only about 30 minutes, and meetings are scheduled between 4:00pm and 6:00pm. Bring bail papers, and other documents you have received from the police or the prosecutor. If you have already received your disclosure it is essential for you to bring this with you. It will have the answers to many of my questions.
- Briefly reviewing the allegations;
- Outlining the different stages in the process and how long the whole case will take; and
- Discussing the fees.
In most cases the first consultation is free of charge. If it won’t be, you will be informed in advance. This first meeting is not about preparing your defence, so please do not bring witnesses with you.
The kind of case, its complexity and the amount of time involved all factor into my fee. I generally do not bill at an hourly rate, but there are some matters where this is appropriate. In these cases my rate commences at $350.00 per hour. I prefer to establish a “block fee” which will cover specific services. Once we have discussed how much my fee will be, and you would like me to be your lawyer, I will require a retainer as a deposit to start working and familiarizing myself with your case. I accept cash, VISA or MasterCard and in some cases a personal cheque. Because my clients are persons who are charged with criminal offences, it is not surpring that I have had some unpleasant experiences trying to collect fees after the case has been completed. Accordingly, my policy is that all fees must be paid before the case is completed.
Once I am retained, I or someone from my office will be attending court with you on your next court date. There will likely be many short court appearances required before the matter is resolved. These are called “set date” appearances. It may be possible for us to appear in your stead, freeing you of the obligation to be in court. You will need to sign a form called a “designation of counsel” to allow us to go to court instead of you. In the event that you are required to be in court in person, it is essential that you be there on time. We often have to make appearances in a number of courtrooms on a given morning, and if you are late it will cause significant stress. Conversely, please be patient with us if we have been tied up in another court. Don’t forget: courthouse security is tight, and having even a little penknife on a key chain will cause problems. While conservative dress for court is always advisable, a business suit is not necessary. Business casual will suffice.
Interviews and Telephone Calls
Once I have received disclosure, we will be setting up an interview to review it with you. This is a longer meeting, the purpose of which is to get into a more detailed analysis of the case. I’ll explain the case against you and set out my strategies and ideas. I’ll probably want to interview witnesses if available. If the matter is proceeding to trial, then we will be setting up more meetings and preparation sessions. However, in the majority of cases, only a few face-to-face interviews at the office will be required. Once we have established how the matter is going to proceed, ongoing activity can best be done by email.
I try to return telephone calls the same day. When you call during the day, you will most likely speak to my assistant. She is a skilled, knowledgeable and well-trained professional who handles many important aspects of my practice, including occasionally going to court for minor appearances. She can likely answer many of your questions directly. Please be aware that she is discreet, and has the same duty of confidentiality as I do. Her main role is to be there for clients when I’m unavailable, so let her try to help you if possible.
It’s the nature of criminal law that things can sometimes go very wrong, very suddenly. Usually this involves the police. Sometimes it can involve a sudden development with a witness. In any event, I can be reached in most circumstances of true emergency.
After hours, you can call me on my cell phone. During the day my assistant can try and reach me at court. I understand and welcome the opportunity to help during a crisis. However, calling me after hours on my cell phone for non-emergency matters will sharply diminish the quality our relationship. My job is a stressful one, so I cherish the few hours of the day when I am not working.
Dealing with the Stress of your Situation
I believe that for most people, being charged with a criminal offence is one of the worst things that will ever happen to them. I have seen first-hand the effects this stress can have, and you should never underestimate the adverse health consequences it can have on you and your loved ones. For this reason, I recommend that you visit your family doctor, a counselor or trusted adviser to assist you in coping with the uncertainty of the experience. While you must always keep in mind that secrets you reveal to these persons are not protected in the criminal context, it is nonetheless vital that you have some emotional support though the process.
A common situation I encounter involves a wife charged with petty theft, who refuses to tell her husband. She will add significantly to her burden of worry by keeping the secret, dreading the day a letter arrives in the mail from the department store that is intercepted by her husband. As I cannot provide the emotional support for you, it is essential that you take advantage of your own support networks.