If you're a fan of US legal dramas, you may be aware of the term criminal defence attorney to describe lawyers who represent clients in criminal matters.
In Australia we don't use the term "attorney" except in a very limited sense. Here's what you need to know about criminal defence lawyers down under and how to find a good lawyer in Australia.
SOLICITOR VS BARRISTER
In Australia the legal profession is separated into two different specialisations: solicitors and barristers.
A solicitor is responsible for preparing your case before your court appearance and liaising with your barrister to ensure that your case is ready for trial. A solicitor will usually be your first point of contact when you engage a criminal law firm and will help give you initial advice regarding your case.
A barrister specialises in making court appearances and speaking on your behalf. Not all criminal court matters will require a barrister, particularly those in the Local Court, but barristers will almost always be necessary if you have been charged with a serious criminal offence. A good criminal lawyer often specialises in court appearances for criminal cases in the local, district or supreme courts of Australia. A criminal lawyer includes a barrister or solicitor who specialises in criminal law.
The roles of solicitors and barristers are sometimes compared to that of general practitioners and medical specialists (such as oncologists). Like a GP, a solicitor is your first point of contact and will decide which specialist (barrister) is most suitable for your legal matter.
Both solicitors and barristers are lawyers. To become a lawyer a person must obtain a legal qualification (generally a Bachelor of Laws or Juris Doctor degree) and become admitted to practice in a particular jurisdiction.
If you are seeking advice in NSW, qualified lawyers are admitted to practice by the Legal Profession Admission Board and undertake an admission ceremony within the NSW Supreme Court where they sign the Supreme Court Roll.
You can check whether your lawyer is admitted to practice by searching the Australian Legal Profession Register.
Experienced criminal law firms will over the years have developed strong working relationships with criminal barristers with whom they have worked with over the years in getting great outcomes. An experienced criminal lawyer will usually have knowledge of which barrister would be best suited for which case based on many factors, including the type of criminal charge, nature of the offence, personality of the client, whether the case is at the local court, district court, supreme court or high court of Australia, and the complexity of the case as well as the clients budget.
The importance of having an experienced criminal defence solicitor can never be underestimated in forming the strongest defence team for a case.
WHAT IS A CRIMINAL DEFENCE ATTORNEY THEN?
In the United States, the word "attorney" refers to a lawyer who has passed the bar exam and practices law primarily in court. It is analogous to a "barrister" in Australia, however the US has a lot less clear of a delineation between solicitor and barrister duties.
Generally, "attorneys" in the US can undertake tasks similar to solicitors, such as providing internal legal advice for a corporation, as well as tasks we would associate with a barrister such as representing a client at trial.
You may sometimes see the term "trademark attorney" used in Australia, this refers to a lawyer who specialises in representation in intellectual property matters. Other than this unique case, the term "attorney" is rarely used in Australia.
The internet has become an exceptional tool to get information. However it is important to ensure that the information is accurate and up to date. For this reason, it is important to know where to look.
In finding a criminal defence lawyer, google reviews online is a great way to get independent guidance as to the best suited lawyer for you and your case. These reviews show you the date of review, number of stars, and written review providing the public with valuable insight based on other clients experiences with the law firm and lawyers.
Another great source of finding a good criminal lawyer is to view the law firms website online. The website will provide valuable insight as to the firms professionalism, awards, experience, number of lawyers you can pick from, whether they provide a free consultation, reviews, recent cases the firm has completed and fixed fees the firm offers clients. In addition, the website may also provide valuable information on the criminal or traffic charge you are facing, including its penalties, defences, elements that the prosecution must prove in order to find guilt etc.
In addition to the above, another great source of finding a good lawyer is knowing what type of lawyer you need. If you are facing a workplace injury then you would not need a criminal lawyer for this. A criminal lawyer is only required if you are going to or are facing a criminal allegation or charge.
There are general practice law firms and then there are criminal defence law firms. A general practice law firm is a law firm with lawyers who practice across more than one area of law. This can include compensation, commercial and criminal law.
In contrast, a criminal law firm is a law firm that exclusively practices in criminal law and is highly focused in this area of law. Similar to the analogy described earlier in this article of a GP and specialist. A general practice law firm is similar to a GP, however a criminal defence law firm is the specialist in the area of criminal law.