Legal emergencies happen a lot. According to FBI and US Department of Transportation statistics, Americans are more likely to be arrested than be a driver involved in a car accident. For non-citizens, immigration detention is another kind of common legal emergency. Young adults and teenagers are most likely to have a legal emergency, and many times they rely on their parents for support, making legal emergencies a family crisis.
Experts agree that the very best thing you can do for yourself or someone you care about in a legal emergency is getting a qualified lawyer right away.
It sounds so easy. In practice, it can be very difficult.
First, every minute counts. According to Leonard E. Milligan, a Boston criminal defense lawyer, “Time is absolutely of the essence.” Rachel M. Self, another Boston criminal defense lawyer, agrees. “Every single moment, from the minute the police stop you, is a moment that can be used against you later on. They listen to everything, they record everything, and they write it down. And a lot of times, they are writing it down in a way that benefits them and that will benefit the prosecution later on.”
Second, very few people know whom to call. “Even if you invoke your right to an attorney, the police are going to say, all right, fine, who do you want to call?” explains Boston lawyer Christopher B. Coughlin. “Most people don’t have an answer to that question.” Unlike personal injury lawyers, expert criminal defense lawyers tend not to buy big, splashy ads. Instead, they usually rely on referrals from other attorneys.
Third, legal emergencies tend to happen outside of normal office hours, late at night and on the weekend. Many good defense attorneys immediately respond to legal emergencies because speed is so important, but since they rely on referrals from other lawyers to meet potential clients, much time is lost as people try to reach the lawyer they know best: a friend, a relation or the lawyer who handles their will.
The best way to manage a legal emergency is to be prepared. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time or money. There is a new service, LawyerUp, that does just that. Users sign up, and if they have a legal emergency, a pre-screened lawyer is guaranteed on the case in 15 minutes or less. LawyerUp securely stores your payment information in a digital vault until you need it so you can pay your lawyer. LawyerUp has a range of subscriptions from pay-only-if-you-use-it to $9.95 for a family plan.
A more traditional approach is to enter into a retainer relationship with a lawyer. In a retainer relationship, a client pays their lawyer a periodic fee with to ensure that if the client needs attention, the lawyer will make that client a top focus. Because retainer fees can be thousands of dollars a year, this type of relationship tends to be limited to celebrities, corporations or very wealthy families.
But just knowing who to call is the most important part. If you have children in the high risk ages of 14-25, take a few minutes and call the lawyer you know best. Get a referral to a good criminal defense attorney – before it’s late and you get that call you never want to get. Set up a phone call with that lawyer and get to know him or her. Ask about their experience. It’s a good sign if they have been specializing in criminal defense for several years. Ask how often they’re in court. Unlike other kinds of lawyers, expert criminal defense lawyers are in court all the time. If he or she is a fit for you, keep their card at hand in your wallet or program their number into your phone. It’s cheap insurance against the kind of trouble you don’t even want to think about.