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David Benowitz on Looking For The Right Attorney

DC criminal attorney David Benowitz answers questions about the first questions he asks a client during their first meeting.

What are some of the first questions you ask a client when they first contact you?

David Benowitz: First, I ask them questions to try and establish rapport and just to get a sense of their feeling of what’s been going on. Is this a case where the police were literally just at their doorstep? Or has their family member called me and said this person is in jail and I’m going to see them over at the jail? So it’s a little bit different depending on what’s happened. But I also try to get a sense of what the government is saying as well.

For example, in white collar cases, are there documents that the government has either asked for or seized? Or have computers been taken, have files been taken? What’s in those documents? I try to get a sense of where the government’s investigation is going and … what’s important to the client. In other words, where do they stand? What do they know about the potential allegations?

How do people generally respond to these questions?

David Benowitz: Most of the clients that I deal with are pretty perceptive and they ask a lot of good questions. (They ask) about what they’re potentially facing as far as potential exposure, criminal exposure. After we’ve talked about the case for a while they might ask, “What do you think is going to happen?” I tell them I can’t guarantee a result, but I … usually have a pretty good idea of the way the case is going to go, or the path the case is going to go on procedurally. Of course I can’t say, “Well, I think this is what the result is going to be.” (Because) we’re just in the very first of many, many steps in the process. But I usually have a pretty good idea of where the case is going.

And are there any questions that you recommend someone should ask their attorney?

David Benowitz: You want to give as much detail as possible to your potential lawyer so they can … give you an informed opinion about what’s going on. I think that what you want to know when you’re deciding about whether to hire a particular lawyer, you want to know about their experience. You want to know about not only experience in handling a particular case, but what they’ve done with those types of cases. Have they gone to trial? Have those cases resolved without a trial? Have they resolved without a trial because the (clients) plead guilty or because the cases (were) dismissed? They should ask what the lawyer’s plan would be as far as their own investigation. Because in my mind, the investigation is the most important part of any case. Because the more information you have, the more you know about what’s coming, the better able you are to be prepared for it. And you have a lot better options as far as taking the case the way you want it to go and planning strategy if you know what information is out there. Being in court is important and performing in court and knowing what to do in court is important. But just because I know, from all the trials I’ve done, how to examine a witness, and cross-examine, and do a direct examination of a witness, if I don’t have the ammunition from investigation, then it’s hard, it doesn’t help. You know, that’s where you get the information that you’re going to use in court. That’s the most important. So, when you’re looking for a lawyer, you want to get a sense of what the approach would be. You should also get a sense of the type of energy and commitment that a lawyer’s going to bring to their fight.

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