My name is Michael Waddington. I’m a court-martial defense attorney. In this article, I want to discuss how to choose the best lawyer to defend you in a court-martial.
Choosing your military lawyer is one of the most important decisions you’re going to make if you’re under investigation or facing a court-martial. You should ask a prospective attorney several questions and judge whether or not that attorney is the best-qualified attorney to defend you. If you don’t choose the best attorney possible to defend you, then you will live to regret your choice.
Questions to ask a lawyer
There are several questions that you should ask any prospective attorney and listen to their tone of voice and their confidence, in addition to the answers that they give. One question you should look for and this is probably the most important, “What are some of your verifiable court-martial trial results, in which you were the lead counsel?” Now, the lead counsel portion is very important. That means you’re the person who did the opening and closing, you were the leader, the primary attorney in the case. It’s not the same to be a lead counsel as it is to sit as secondary counsel and assist the lead counsel. You should look for an attorney that has tried at least 50 felony jury trials, to a jury as lead counsel. Now, if you can find a lawyer that’s done more than that, and there’s plenty of them out there then that’s great but whenever you have an attorney that’s only done 5 to 15 cases, that is not a lot of cases when it comes to being a trial attorney.
Another important factor is client testimonials. Look online and check to see if that attorney has been reviewed by old clients. What do they have to say about the attorney you’re speaking to? Does the attorney have one or two reviews or none? Or does the attorney have a dozen or more reviews? Client reviews are a tell-tale sign that an attorney is winning cases and taking cases to trial and getting great results for his clients.
Another important factor is if you’re looking for an attorney that’s an excellent lead trial counsel, ask the attorney, “Hey, can you give me the names of a few military defense lawyers that you have tried cases with in the past?” If they can’t provide any names, then there’s a problem. It’s a good idea to check the background of the lawyer that you’re looking into. For example, if the lawyer gives you one or two names of Army, Air Force, Marine Corps defense counsels that they worked with, give them a call or have your mom and dad call and check into the background of that lawyer.
Another factor you should ask your prospective attorney about is, “How long have you been off of active duty?” And if the attorney is off of active duty for one or two years, then that should cause you some concern. Not that someone right off of active duty can’t be a good attorney but if an attorney is young and they did four years on active duty and they’ve been out in private practice for only a few months or a year, then you might want to just check in a little a deeper into the background of that attorney.
Independent Ratings and Reviews
Another thing you should look for is independent ratings and reviews. Check avvo.com, that’s a great lawyer review website. It also rates attorneys based on their experience, reputation, and ethics. Look at super lawyers, look at the national trial lawyers. Things like that, that can verify whether or not the attorney your speaking with is actually a legitimate, trained, experienced trial attorney or just someone that’s trying to pretend that they’re the most experienced trial attorney.
How Many Years as a Defense Lawyer (not a prosecutor)?
A very important question you should ask your attorney, “How many years of your legal career have you spent defending people as a criminal defense lawyer. Not as a JAG, not as a prosecutor throwing people in jail but as a criminal defense attorney, trying cases to a jury. And you’ll be surprised, many of these lawyers that are out there claiming to be the best or the most experienced military defense lawyers, spent the majority of their career hurting and throwing service members in jail and vigorously prosecuting people, sometimes with little to no evidence. So be careful.
Experience While in the Military
Another question you should ask is, “What exactly did you do while you were in the military?” And if someone spent the majority of their career in legal assistance and did a little bit of prosecution, and maybe did a little bit of defense or no defense, that’s another red flag. There’s a lot of good lawyers out there that are great trial lawyers. Why settle for someone who’s second-best?
How many jury trials have you done?
One final thing you should ask when you’re looking for a military defense attorney, “How many jury trials have you done? How many contested jury trials have you done total?” I would start with 100 as a baseline. Now, that’s a lot of cases but there’s a ton of lawyers out there that have done more than 100 jury trials. If you are speaking with a lawyer and they don’t want to tell you roughly how many cases they’ve taken to trial and if they don’t want to get into the details of the last 10 to 15 jury trials that they’ve defended then that’s another red flag. It doesn’t mean that you should altogether exclude that attorney but do some checking around. Speak to some other attorneys and weigh and compare who is the most experienced, who’s the best attorney to defend me, because you only get one chance at a court-martial.