How to Hire a Defense Attorney: Guidance from Anthony J. Patti, Esq.
Anthony J. Patti is an attorney with a depth of experience in practicing criminal law. After graduating from a New York City high school in 1966, he trained at two major companies and became a mainframe computer operator. Two years later, he followed the path of his father and grandfathers and joined the Army. He hasn’t looked back since he left his job as a mainframe operator.
The Army sent Anthony to Thailand. Upon arrival “in country,” a personnel specialist suggested that he put his typewriting skills to good use and assigned Anthony to the Army’s U.S. Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) corps. Anthony accepted the role with enthusiasm. Over the next 18 months, by serving in the role of a clerk for the JAG corps, he worked with attorneys who handled court-martials and other legal matters. Anthony developed an appreciation for the law and he wanted to learn more.
When he returned to civilian life, Anthony attended Adelphi University, on Long Island. After earning his undergraduate degree, he attended law school in California’s San Fernando Valley. During his second year of law school, Anthony clerked for the public defenders’ office and became passionate about criminal defense work. After passing California’s bar exam, Anthony began building his career as a defense attorney.
Over the course of a career that has spanned longer than 35 years, Anthony was lead counsel in more than 200 trials. He also invested hundreds of hours doing appeals and post-conviction work for defendants. That experience made Anthony a great source of information for any defendant who was in the market for hiring a defense attorney.
Anthony suggested that if an individual were in the market to hire a defense attorney, he should ask some specific questions to learn more about the attorney’s reputation and practice. For example, Anthony thought a defendant could learn a great deal by asking the attorney about the organizations in which he actively participated.
Legal organizations offered opportunities for defense attorneys to network and publish. Attorneys who were active in organizations like the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers might contribute to some of the forums or committees.
Those contributions would open opportunities to learn how the attorney’s peers perceived him. Since defendants generally didn’t know much about criminal law when they were searching to hire a defense attorney for the first time, they could gain insight by learning about the prospective attorney’s reputation among peers from the legal community.
Anthony’s advice of learning more about an attorney’s reputation made sense. In my own case, when I hired an attorney to represent me in federal court, I didn’t know anything about how other attorneys perceived the competency of the man I hired. A good attorney could provide references from within the legal community. Defendants could check those references by researching published opinions or completing some simple due diligence with phone calls. Also, a defendant might go further by asking the attorney to provide references to case law that would show the attorney’s experience practicing a specific type of law that might be relevant to the case.
A defendant may also question the lawyer about the types of continuing education he has completed. Lawyers who were serious about their profession continuously invested themselves in learning more about the intricacies of practicing criminal defense law. They wanted to pursue a best-practice approach to defending their clients. Accordingly, they participated regularly in continuing legal education courses to learn from their peers. Some lawyers would even teach their own CLE courses; others taught in law school. Those types of credentials could validate, or authenticate a lawyer’s expertise.
Anthony suggested that defendants who were in the market to hire a criminal defense attorney should do everything possible to gauge the prospective attorney’s ethics. “A lot of lawyers operate like used car dealers,” he warned. Defendants should be wary of lawyers who spoke about the people they knew and how those relationships could influence the outcome of the case. In the law profession, he said, most everyone knows most everyone else. Any attorney who hung his hat on how his relationships would influence the outcome of a case would throw off a red flag. Anthony suggested that defendants should beware.
Worse than bragging about relationships, Anthony warned, were attorneys who insinuated that they would need resources to influence the outcome of a case inappropriately. Ethical attorneys do not practice law in such a way. Defendants should look for an attorney who had a reputation for adhering to the standards of good conduct rather than shady practices.
Unfortunately, I had personal experience with the type of defense attorney Anthony warned against hiring. Rather than advising me on how I could position myself for the best possible outcome, the attorney played into my ignorance. He told me precisely what I wanted to hear. That strategy served the attorney well, as he successfully extracted a mid-six figure fee. Yet I paid a price for my foolishness.
On the other hand, Anthony said that he would feel a higher level of confidence if he were to interview a defense attorney who spoke about a precise, deliberate strategy. Such a discussion would include guidance about hiring expert witnesses, pursuit of discovery materials, debriefing witnesses, and using other strategic practices. The defendant should ask the attorney how many similar cases he had defended. He may then question the attorney about the defense strategy used in the case. Give the attorney an opportunity to answer honestly. If he starts puffing about how great he is (or she is), then the client should beware. But if the attorney speaks honestly, then that will be a good sign that the defendant has found a professional.
With regard to fees, Anthony said that shopping for the cheapest lawyer is probably a bad idea. A defendant should speak to the candidate openly. A prosecutor will be building a case that, ultimately, asks for a substantial prison term. Is this the lawyer that will provide the defendant with a level of comfort?
Anthony suggested that a defendant should be completely transparent about what he can afford. Put all the cards on the table. Then the defendant should ask the attorney for guidance on the best possible strategy, given the resources at hand. That approach could serve as another test of the attorney’s commitment to ethics.
Finally, Anthony said that all judicial districts were local. By that statement, I understood him to mean that defendants should hire an attorney who was familiar with the specific courthouse. Defendants advanced their cause when they hired a defense attorney who had a familiarity with the practices of the local courthouse and the local judges. Courthouse regulars, including judges, prosecutors, and probation officers were protective of their turf. They did not respond well to outsiders. Attorneys from out of town frequently raised suspicions from courtroom regulars, Anthony said. When defendants worked with competent local counsel, they could move closer to the best possible outcome.
Some bullet points that Anthony provided for defendants to consider included:
Characteristics that a defendant might find favorable in a prospective attorney:
- Attorney shows that he is involved in community activities.
- Attorney shows that he is involved in family activities.
- Attorney shows that he is active in the sports of his school age children.
- Attorney shows that he is involved in his church or house of worship.
Characteristics that a defendant might find unfavorable in a prospective attorney:
- Attorney aspires to be “lawyer to the stars” or “lawyer to Wall Street.”
- Attorney brags about his “high power” client list.
- Attorney has a high “drug law” practice.
- Attorney brags about special inside knowledge of the key players in the court system.
- Attorney has a reputation for gambling or placing wagers on any type of betting.
- Attorney is a heavy drinker or illicit drug user.
- Attorney expresses a desire for political aspirations.
In summary, I found Anthony J. Patti to be forthright and honest. Defendants who were looking for guidance should contact him directly at the contact information below.
Anthony J. Patti
P.O. Box 8490
Calabasas, CA 91372