How to Interpret Claims Made on Website for Criminal Defense Lawyers

Just as every sunglass manufacturer uses its website in order to attempt to convince you that it makes the greatest sunglasses known to mankind, so too does every criminal defense lawyer use his or her website to attempt to convince you that they are the greatest lawyer since Clarence Darrow.

Our criminal defense lawyer Clint Broden has explained decipher some of the claims made on websites related to recognitions claimed by lawyers as well as what to look for on a lawyer’s “results” page.

Recognitions and Ratings

There are many lawyer recognitions out there so it is often difficult for the average person searching for a criminal defense lawyer to know which ones matter and which are shameless marketing ploys?

Top 100 Trial Lawyers-Useless. Many lawyers claim to be “one of the top 100 trial lawyers” as recognized by the “National Trial Lawyers.” Stay away from any lawyer that has this on their website. First, if you go to the website for The National Trial Lawyers you will quickly realize that there are thousands of lawyers who have been named “top 100 trial lawyers” by this organization. Second, lawyers do nothing to earn this recognition other than writing a check to the organization. Third, you do not want any lawyer who is not smart enough to figure this out to be representing you in court. Think about it, lawyers have ethical rules to follow and have a duty not to mislead the public. In our mind, a lawyer attempting to convince the public that they have been named among the top 100 lawyers in the United States when that is clearly not the case is not the lawyer you want representing you.

AVVO-Marginally helpful. Although both Clint Broden and Mick Mickelsen both have 10.0 ratings on AVVO, AVVO has its limitations. It is a good website to learn of a lawyer’s background.

On the other hand, we continually get emails from lawyers throughout the United States asking us to “endorse” them on their AVVO pages in exchange for them endorsing one of us. The problem is that, almost all of the times, we have never heard of these lawyers and we would never “endorse” a lawyer if we were not familiar with their work. Unfortunately, not all lawyers refuse these mutual endorsements requests from unknown attorneys.

Martindale-Hubbell- Somewhat helpful. In our mind, the ratings given by this organization can be used more as a tool of exclusion. Good lawyers are AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell. The problem is that there are many lawyers that are AV rated including both partners at Broden & Mickelsen, LLP. We would suggest that you be leery of hiring a lawyer that is NOT AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell. On the other hand, excluding non-AV rated lawyers will likely not drastically limit the field of lawyers you might be considering.

Super Lawyers-Pretty Helpful. Super Lawyers recognition is based on independent research and peer reviews. According to the Super Lawyers’ website, only 5% of lawyers are named “super lawyers.” Clint Broden & Mick Mickelsen have been named “super lawyers” every year since 2006. At first we were leery because Super Lawyers also charges for advertising in its magazines. Nevertheless, we have not paid for advertising in the Super Lawyers magazine for almost ten years and are still continually recognized as “super lawyers” in the fields of criminal law and white collar criminal law. In short, it does appear that a Super Lawyers distinction is one thing to give some consideration to when hiring a lawyer. But, with that said, keep in mind that Super Lawyers has been around for over a decade. Nevertheless, anybody can claim they are a “super lawyer” even if they only received that recognition once many years back. Thus, if this is a recognition that you decide is important to you, you should go to the Super Lawyers website to determine whether the lawyer has just been named a “super lawyer” once several years back or whether they are consistently named the Super Lawyers recognition.

Best Lawyers in Dallas-Pretty Helpful. This list is published by “D Magazine” and our view of it is almost identical to our view regarding “super lawyers.” One can begin by narrowing their list of potential lawyers to hire if a lawyer has repeatedly been names a “super lawyer” and a “best lawyer in Dallas.” Mick Mickelsen and Clint Broden have been named to the D Magazine Best Lawyers in Dallas list on several occasions.

Board Certified-Very Helpful. We believe this to be the “gold standard.” This is a certification offered by the State Bar of Texas based upon testing, experience, peer reviews and reviews by judges. There are no advertising opportunities involved in becoming a board-certified lawyer in a particular practice field. Both partners at Broden & Mickelsen, LLP have been board certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in the field of criminal law since 1999 and in the field of criminal appellate law since 2011 (the first year the appellate specialty was offered). Of course, not every good lawyer is board certified and there are a few board certified lawyers that seem to have slipped through the cracks, but, of all attorney recognitions, this is the one that can probably tell you the most about a lawyer’s ability. Indeed, why would you not want to be represented by a lawyer who is board certified by the Texas Bar of Legal Specialization in your field.

“Results” Pages

Former Prosecutors. It is reasonable to debate whether you should hire a former prosecutor who has jumped to the defense side or whether you should look for a career criminal defense lawyer when selecting a lawyer to represent you. Clint Broden and Mick Mickelsen have been criminal defense lawyers their entire careers. We believe that criminal defense lawyers that have never worked for the prosecution have no allegiances and may be more comfortable vigorously challenging the opposition. Although it is a generalization, we have also found that many former prosecutors, especially those that prosecuted for more than a few years and simply left a prosecution office to make more money, still think like prosecutors. They presume their clients guilty and are less creative in filing motions and setting forth defenses.

In any event, what is not open to reasonable debate is how misleading it is when prosecutors include in their “won-loss” statistics on their website “results” page how many cases they won as a prosecutor. Ultimately, we see this again and again on the websites of former prosecutors turned defense attorneys. Prosecutors have a 95% conviction rate at trial; they are expected to win. For a former prosecutor to include his or her string of prosecutorial guilty verdicts on their “results” page is one of the most misleading things we see on lawyer websites. Hiring a lawyer that engages in such trickery sets you up to be continually mislead and we advise you to avoid a lawyer like that at all costs.

Dismissals vs. Acquittals. While dismissals are marginally relevant on a “results” page, they rarely tell the whole story. The skill of the lawyer often has nothing to do with whether a case gets dismissed. Cases are dismissed because a complaint decides they don’t want to prosecute, or because further investigation by the police results in a lack of evidence, or because a prosecutor does not accept the case for prosecution, or because a grand jury “no bills” the case, or for a whole host of other reasons. In short, it is hard to really know what a “dismissal” means on a lawyer’s “results” page without knowing all of the facts behind the dismissal. Consequently, it is hard to give such “results” much weight.

On the other hand, “not guilty” verdicts are not everyday occurrences in the field of criminal defense. While some cases are harder than others, you should be impressed by a lawyer that has had numerous “not guilty” verdicts. We recommend that, if you are really going to give credence to a lawyer’s “results” page, you do a “find search” for the words “not guilty” and “acquittal” on these pages. Even then, keep in mind that this only tells you part of what you need to know. You need to look at the type of cases won by the lawyer. After all, a string of “not guilties” in DWI cases may make a lawyer the perfect lawyer for your DWI case but not the perfect lawyer for a murder case or a complex white collar fraud case in federal court.

Downward Departures. Many lawyers use their websites to promote the great “downward departure” sentences they obtained for their clients in federal court. Again, this is extremely misleading. Unfortunately, cooperation has become the currency in obtaining a reduced sentence in federal court. Thus, a lawyer touting that he or she obtained a “downward departure” for a client is often saying nothing more than that they held their client’s hand while the client met with the government and gave up information on his or her co-defendants.

Other Misleading Website Features

The “royal we” might have its place, but not on lawyer websites. Often times one will go to the website of a criminal defense attorney and the website will talk about all of the things “we” have accomplished and that “we” can do for potential clients. Nevertheless, when you go to the “attorney page” you realize the “we” is really an “I.” There is nothing wrong with hiring a solo practitioner and some of the best attorneys operate as solo practitioners. On the other hand, why not be upfront about it?

On the flip side of that, some firms advertise themselves as “Smith, Jones and Kazwolski” to give the appearance that the firm is a true partnership and that each of the attorneys in the firm’s name has a vested interest in all of the cases at the “firm.” In fact, many of these “firms” are actually a group of individuals sharing office space and the persons in the firm’s name are not actual partners who share responsibility of cases. This sleight of hand also means that these lawyers can take cases adverse to one another because they are not true partners. In other words, you could be represented by Lawyer Smith while the co-defendant who is cooperating against you with the government is being represented by Lawyer Jones.

Hiring a Lawyer

In the age of the internet, it is sometimes very hard for a client, who is already under a great deal of stress, to choose the lawyer that is right for them. Misleading claims made on websites make this task even more difficult. We have tried above to make sense of many of the usual claims- many misleading- made on lawyer websites.