Thomas Soldan on Hiring a Criminal Defense Attorney
Thomas Soldan, a criminal lawyer in Virginia, answers questions on things to consider when hiring a criminal defense attorney in Virginia.
What factors should someone consider when trying to find the best criminal defense attorney for their case?
Thomas Soldan: You should certainly do due diligence and find out whether the attorneys you’re talking to practice regularly in the jurisdiction where you’ve been charged. For example, if you are charged with DUI, you want someone who practices in that area of the law and who has familiarity with the laws and procedures of that particular jurisdiction, and potentially with the prosecutors or other people involved in the case. After you’ve vetted the qualifications and experience, the next thing that is of the utmost importance is whether the person’s personality and approach meet up with yours. Everyone learns and takes in information differently, but some people work better with different personalities. That’s why it’s important to talk to several criminal defense attorneys. Find out which personality best meets the approach you’re looking for, your style, and how you understand the law. Different attorneys have different approaches, so you have to see who is out there and decide who is best for you. It’s on a case-by-case decision. People have to make a decision as to who the best fit for them is; not the best fit for their friend or for someone else they hear about, but who the best fit is for them.
Why is it important for an attorney to have local experience?
Thomas Soldan: I certainly have abundant local experience in Loudoun, Prince William, and Fairfax counties, as well as being the former president of the Fauquier Bar Association. For any attorney that practices in localities throughout Virginia, there are different personalities, procedures, and methods of doing things, whether it is introduction of evidence, preferred motion practice, or other negotiation points. The very foundation of local practices is building those relationships, whether it is with a prosecutor who comes to expect a certain level of preparedness from the defense attorney, a judge whose best arguments are to be made in a certain way and has a certain flavor for how they prefer to do things. Having local connections with prosecutors, judges, and other members of the court and clerk staff helps with any type of case. That holds true in every jurisdiction where I’ve practiced, and certainly the ones I’m in most often, namely Loudoun County and Fauquier County.
What factors are important in developing a strong attorney/client relationship?
Thomas Soldan: Understanding and communication are paramount. Understanding what expectations the client has for representation is very important. Understanding the client’s expectations regarding communication, frequency, method, duration are arguably even more important. Everyone is different in how they want to be communicated with, how they obtain information, and how they process information. As an attorney, you have to be flexible in dealing with people and how they learn, which may not necessarily be how you learn, and dealing with different things that come up in that context.
What are important questions for a client to ask in a first meeting with an attorney?
Thomas Soldan: Some of the best questions to ask are “Have you handled cases of a similar nature previously?” “Are you comfortable practicing in this area of law?” and “Do you know local people that can get things done as far as potential relationships are concerned?” Those are some of the most important questions to ask. It’s also important to understand that all those conversations are privileged and that being up front and honest and laying all the facts on the table is the way an attorney can best understand what they can do to represent you.
Why should someone hire a private attorney as opposed to using a public defender?
Thomas Soldan: The public defender’s offices in Northern Virginia have a great reputation; they all have very skilled attorneys who practice exclusively in the area of criminal law, so you know you’re getting an attorney that’s experienced that area. One of the important things to consider when deciding whether a court-appointed counsel is the best use of your resources is access. They’re going to have a lot more cases than a private attorney is going to have. It’s going to be more difficult to reach them; not because they don’t want to communicate with you, but because they have caseloads that demand their attention at different levels and may not be able to explore different legal theories of the case. They may not have some of the same resources as far as investigators and other things that a private attorney may have. They also may not have the particular experience in one or more areas of the law that a private attorney has.