How to Hire a Civilian Lawyer

Here’s How To Choose The Right Lawyer For Your Court-Martial

Who is the world’s best court-martial lawyer? There’s no such thing. There are many good ones, a few great ones, but nobody can honestly claim to be the best. Your goal should be to find the attorney who’s the best fit for your case and your personality, whether that’s an appointed attorney or a civilian military lawyer.

Civilian attorneys, all of us, are confident in our abilities and proud of our accomplishments, and we want your business. But finding the right attorney has more to do with how the attorney connects with you, and less to do with what any law firm claims on its website, ours included. The way you find that attorney is to focus on the whole package, not just the sales pitch. We encourage you to consider three main things as you shop around:

  • Product
  • Personality
  • Price

Product: Every attorney you talk to learned from the same books, got the same training, and passed the same standardized tests. Some of us have a lot more trial experience than others, and some of us have a much higher success rate, but as you look at the websites you’ll see that everyone’s experience looks similar. Before you start calling attorneys, spend time drilling down into their websites. Read their biographies, look at their pictures, and check their case histories. See what kind of military service they did. Does the website give you any useful information, or is it just a sales brochure? Before you call, try to get a feel for the kind of person you’ll be talking to.

Personality: You’re hiring a person, not just a product. Attorneys offer free consultations, so take them up on it. Reading about them is good, but talking to them is better. Call a few of them, filter out the ones that make you uncomfortable, and call back the ones you like. As you go through a consultation, pay attention to how the attorney talks about himself. Is he conceited? Confidence is good but there’s a big difference between bragging and being confident. You need to trust that he’ll keep your needs first and foremost in his mind, and not treat your court-martial like it’s his showcase. Listen to how he talks about other lawyers. Does he cut them down? Does he say bad things about appointed attorneys? There’s more than one good civilian military lawyer, and the attorneys you talk to shouldn’t hesitate to admit it, and they should acknowledge that there are some excellent JAGs as well. How he talks about himself and other lawyers will tell you something about his character. His character is also reflected by the way he communicates. Does he answer questions directly? Is he down-to-earth or does he “talk like a lawyer”? You have to be able to communicate with your attorney. Make sure he helps you understand things and doesn’t confuse you with jargon. And if you have an appointed military attorney, ask about the civilian lawyer’s reputation. A good reputation is a force multiplier.

Price: The military will give you an attorney for your court-martial, free of charge, so you need to figure out why you want to pay for one. Concerns about loyalty should be low on your list. Appointed defense attorneys are loyal to their clients. Experience is a crucial factor, and top civilian military attorneys should be expected to have more trial experience than appointed attorneys, but many cases can be handled by a JAG without any help from a civilian. During the consultation, ask the attorney what he can do that an appointed attorney can’t do, or can’t do as well. When you discuss price, keep in mind that the top firms charge equivalent fees for their services. There will be a broad range of what’s due up-front, but the total cost of representation for a court-martial will be similar from firm to firm, especially if you’re looking at firms with a well-established, national reputation. Another similarity among civilian military defense firms is that most of us charge flat fees Whether taking a case on flat fees or hourly rates, an attorney should be willing to explain what you get for your money, how you can pay, and when the money is due.

Hiring an attorney isn’t a cheap investment. The key is to take your time, do your homework, and trust your instincts.