Tips for Hiring the Best Criminal Lawyer for Your Case

If you’re facing criminal charges, you know that the stakes are high and the criminal justice system can be hard to navigate on your own. Choosing the best criminal lawyer near you is critical to a positive outcome for your case. This involves doing some research and taking the time to understand what qualities to look out for. 

In this article, we’ll show you what factors to consider when choosing a criminal lawyer so you can make an informed decision. 

What is a Criminal Lawyer?

Every day, there are changes to legislation, new cases heard in court, and technological advances which change the way a particular area of the law is practised. As such, most lawyers focus on a particular area of the law to specialize in so they can keep up to date with all of these changes. A criminal lawyer is someone who has focused their practise on defending accused individuals. Here’s what makes criminal lawyers unique:

The Focus of Criminal Lawyers

Criminal lawyers are lawyers who focus on defending clients charged with criminal offences under the Criminal Code of Canada. Criminal lawyers may also defend clients charged with regulatory offences such as those under the Highway Traffic Act. If convicted of a criminal or regulatory offence, the sentence can range from a fine up to lengthy periods of jail time. 

Unlike lawyers who practice in business lawyer or employment law, a criminal lawyer is responsible for defending the rights of accused individuals who may face lengthy periods of incarceration if they are convicted. The stakes are high for criminal lawyers and this high-pressure environment is not suitable for every lawyer. 

Educational Requirements

Every lawyer in Ontario is required to be licensed by the Law Society of Ontario (LSO, formerly the Law Society of Upper Canada) in order to practise law. If the lawyer attended school in Ontario, they will typically have a four-year undergraduate degree before attending three years of law school. After law school, the law student will write the barrister and solicitor exams and spend one year articling prior to becoming licensed with the LSO. 

You can look up the licensing status of a lawyer or paralegal on the LSO Lawyer and Paralegal Directory. This directory shows the disciplinary history of a licensee. 

The Role of a Criminal Lawyer

The #1 job of a criminal defence lawyer is to fearlessly advocate on behalf of the interests of an accused individual. This involves things such as:

  • Meeting with a client to determine how we can help
  • Crafting a theory of the case and defence strategy
  • Reviewing disclosure, flagging opportunities, and requesting missing disclosure
  • Meeting with the Crown to negotiate a resolution or narrow issues for trial
  • Conducting legal research and preparing arguments
  • Attending court and moving the case forward at all times
  • Preparing for and representing an accused at trial
  • Preparing sentencing submissions

As you can see, there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes and this is only a fraction of the work a criminal lawyer does to defend clients. Choosing the right lawyer who can perform these tasks with precision and focus on the right legal issues to win a case is key. 

What Makes the Best Defence Lawyer?

When you are defending the liberty of an accused individual, it takes both time and experience to develop the advocacy skills necessary to obtain the best results for clients. When you are looking for the best defence lawyer near you, keep an eye out for these attributes:  

Criminal Law Experience

Competency is at the cornerstone of any good lawyer-client relationship. It’s not uncommon to see a lawyer taking on criminal law cases in a general practice that may include providing other services such as real estate and wills. However, when choosing a criminal lawyer it is imperative that you find someone with criminal law experience. 

When it comes to experience, law is no different than any other profession. While there are some miraculously talented young lawyers fresh out of law school, there is no substitute for years of experience in the field. This experience not only means a better likelihood of success in your case but also that less time is wasted by the lawyer having to become competent to handle your matter. 

At Pyzer Criminal Law, our team of experienced defence lawyers have years of experiencing defending criminal cases in Toronto and Ontario of all sizes.

Planning and Preparation

When choosing a criminal lawyer, you will want to understand what their planning and preparation process for your case will be. Many cases can end in a positive resolution with the right preparation from the outset. This means a detailed review of the case, disclosure, and witnesses to understand how strong the Crown’s case is against the accused. 

Once this preparation work has been completed, it may be determined that a resolution can be achieved. When this work is not completed on the front-end, it results in cases going to trial which may never have had to. 

Track Record of Success

Along with the right experience in criminal law, your chosen lawyer should be able to show you the results they were able to achieve in similar cases to your own. 

The case summaries page on our site highlights some recent cases and the outcome we were able to achieve. Every case is unique and no criminal lawyer can guarantee results for you. Our only goal is to fearlessly defend all of your rights and raise every available defence. However, these results show what can be possible when you work with the right defence lawyer. 

If your case is simple, you may not care so much about how many cases a lawyer has taken on. However, a track record of success can demonstrate a continued commitment to the practice of criminal law and defending clients for many years. 

Tips for Finding the Best Criminal Lawyer

Now that you understand some of the key attributes of a criminal defence lawyer, here are some tips for finding the right lawyer and receiving the best outcome for your case:

1. Hire a Criminal Lawyer Early

The most important thing you should do when you are accused of a crime is to retain a criminal lawyer early. Oftentimes, clients believe that a case can be resolved when they show up in court. However, your matter will likely be remanded until you can retain a lawyer, which means an additional delay in your case attributed to you. 

Hiring a criminal lawyer early means that we can immediately begin reviewing your case, requesting disclosure, and showing the Crown that you are prepared to move forward at all times. 

2. Do Your Research

Start by doing an Internet search for criminal lawyers who practice in your region. You can also check out online legal directories: look through members of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association and the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Lawyer and Paralegal Directory.

Don’t be intimidated by the large number of search results returned. Look for the lawyers’ websites, and try to find information on their practice areas and recent cases in order to decide whether they may be suitable for your legal needs.

3. Consult Family and Friends

Before going on a widespread search, a good first step to take is to ask your family and friends whether they have any recommendations for a criminal lawyer. If you know someone who retained a lawyer to defend against a criminal charge, ask that person how they felt about their lawyer and whether they believe their case was handled with care.

The best referral source is someone who was involved in a similar situation and had a successful case outcome. In general, recommendations from people you know are more likely to be reliable compared to Internet reviews and references provided by the lawyers themselves.

4. Verify the Lawyer’s Competence and Credentials

First of all, you want to find a lawyer who specializes in criminal law. Generally speaking, the more specialized a lawyer is, the better they are in their practice. The law is constantly evolving through statutory changes and case law developments, and as a result it is difficult for a lawyer to maintain expertise in multiple practice areas.

After verifying that the potential lawyer is a criminal defence specialist, you should further ensure that he or she is experienced in dealing with your particular charges. For example, if you are facing an assault charge, a lawyer who specializes in white-collar crimes such as securities fraud or tax evasion probably won’t be the best suited for your needs.

Next, do an Internet search for the lawyer’s name or the name of the firm. Through the search, you may locate media reports detailing their success in a case, or articles written by the lawyer themselves demonstrating their legal knowledge. You will also likely find reviews and testimonies provided by past clients. Use any information you can find to help you choose the lawyer who is best fit for you and your circumstances.

5. Interview Lawyers in Person

After you narrow your list of potential lawyers down, you should meet them in person and determine whether they will be able to handle your case. Most criminal lawyers offer a free initial consultation, and this is your opportunity to evaluate the lawyer, in addition to getting advice on your legal rights and options. There are a few factors that you should take into consideration in your evaluation, including professionalism, personality and cost.

During your meet-up, try to gauge whether the lawyer is passionate and knowledgeable about the law, and avoid those who are merely using sales tactics to try and gain your business. As the conversations move forward, try to note if the lawyers are bringing up legal concepts, or are they simply making a general sales pitch. Are they able to clearly explain your legal rights and options in plain language or do you feel confused by the end of the consultation? Are they being realistic and laying out all the possible legal outcomes, or giving you a guarantee that they will win your case? While you may not wish to hear about the potentially unfavourable outcomes when you are facing criminal charges, you should be skeptical of promises of guaranteed victories. The more cautious lawyer will be the better choice since he or she will likely put in more effort to develop the best strategy possible and make sure unfavourable outcomes do not occur.

Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Criminal Lawyer

Here is a list of questions to ask a criminal lawyer lawyer:

  1. How long have you been practicing criminal law in this province?
  2. Is criminal law your only area of specialization?
  3. How long have you been representing people with cases like mine?
  4. Do you frequently represent people facing charges like mine?
  5. In how many of those cases did you achieve favourable outcomes?
  6. Are you the only one who will be handling my case or will there be other people in your office working on it as well?
  7. How long do you anticipate it will be before my matter is resolved?
  8. Can you explain my bail conditions to me?
  9. Is it possible to change one of my bail conditions?
  10. What will happen at my first/next court appearance?
  11. Are you familiar with the courthouse my matter is in?
  12. Do you know and have good relationships with the Crowns and judges?
  13. How do you think you will go about defending my case?
  14. What is the best and worst-case scenario of my charges?
  15. What do you think is the most likely outcome of my case?
  16. What are the biggest concerns you have regarding my case?
  17. How much will I be paying for your services?

6. Avoid Lawyers That Provide Promises or Guarantees

It is strictly prohibited in the rules of professional conduct by the Law Society of Ontario to provide promises or guarantees about the outcome of your case. 

The commentary on the rules states that marketing may contravene this rule if it is “referring to the lawyer's degree of success in past cases unless the statement is accompanied by a further statement that past results are not necessarily indicative of future results and that the amount recovered and other litigation outcomes will vary according to the facts in individual cases.”

If you see a lawyer making such claims or promises, it is crucial to understand that no lawyer can make those guarantees. There is no such thing as an identical case and the law is rapidly evolving, so even if a lawyer obtained a positive result in one case, it does not mean the same result will happen in your case. 

Only after a thorough review of your case after a free consultation can a lawyer start to understand what the likely outcome may be in your situation. 

7. Don’t Hire The Cheapest Defence

Hiring a lawyer may be a significant expense depending on the complexity of your case. It is important not to hire a lawyer based solely on price. A more junior lawyer may be able to offer a lower fee for representing you, but they may not have the experience necessary to achieve the best outcome for you. 

Another element to consider with a more junior lawyer is that the hourly rate may be lower, but it may take the lawyer more hours to handle the same task as a more senior lawyer. 

Rather than focusing on cost, think about the other aspects such as experience and track record that are likely more important. A holistic approach to your search will deliver better results than one focused entirely on cost. 

8. Avoid Scare Tactics

Being charged with a criminal offence is likely amongst the most stressful times in a person’s life. We all understand the potential impact on an accused’s life if they were to be convicted and sentenced to a period of incarceration. 

When reviewing your options, don’t let the scare tactics of choosing the wrong lawyer cloud your judgment. You will learn much more from booking a free consultation and hearing what the lawyer has to say than being scared about the potential for prison time.

9. Ask The Lawyer to Provide a Retainer Agreement

A retainer agreement is an essential document in the lawyer-client relationship and forms the basis of the relationship between you and the lawyer. Without a retainer agreement, this means that the lawyer is not representing you and is taking no steps to move your case forward. 

Once you have completed a free consultation, the lawyer you are working with will determine if our firm is the right fit to take on your case. If you are interested in having us represent you, we will compile a retainer agreement for you to review and sign. This document outlines:

  • What legal services we will and will not be providing
  • What our legal fees are
  • How you can end the relationship with us and in what circumstances we will end the relationship with you
  • Other important information to ensure communication lines are open between us

10. Inquire What Else Does the Criminal Lawyer Bring to the Table

Above all else, a criminal lawyer is there to bridge the gap between an accused and the overwhelming power of the Crown in a confusing criminal justice system. This is accomplished by:

  • Frequent communication and updates about your case so you are aware of what is going on
  • Open and honest communication between the lawyer and the client so you can understand the likelihood of success
  • A commitment to moving your case forward at all times and continuously working to defend your rights

When you sit down for a free consultation, you will get a better sense of how the lawyer communicates and how they may be able to help. 

11. Make Your Decision

After taking the time to evaluate your potential lawyers, it’s time to make a final decision. At this stage, feel free to use your intuition and choose the lawyer whom you have the most confidence in. Is the lawyer someone you can work with and believe in? Do they seem like they will do their best for your case? Are you able to effectively communicate with them? Make sure you feel comfortable speaking openly and honestly about your circumstances with the lawyer of your choosing. Being comfortable and open with your lawyer and being able to provide all the facts of the case will allow your lawyer to develop a better strategy for your defence.

Being arrested and dealing with criminal charges can be frightening and confusing. However, if you take the time to carefully choose the right criminal lawyer for your case, the process will become less of a headache and you will more likely receive the favourable outcome that you are looking for.

Working with Top Criminal Lawyers

Once you have chosen a criminal lawyer to represent you and you have signed a written retainer agreement, here are the usual steps that your case will follow:

Pre-Trial Representation

Before and if the case goes to trial, an extensive amount of work is undertaken to fully review your case and prepare it for trial or resolution. 

Initial Consultation

During the initial consultation, we will hear your side of the story, review the documents you have received from the Crown to date, and understand if our firm is the right fit for your case.

Retainer Agreement Signed

After the initial consultation, we will prepare a written retainer agreement for you to review and sign.

Court Appearances

Once we have been retained, we will attend all court appearances in your matter and notify the court that we are now representing you. 

Requesting and Reviewing Disclosure

The Crown is under a continuous obligation to disclose all evidence that they will rely on at trial, including photos, police notices, witness statements, videos, etc. We will review these materials and request additional disclosure where we discover gaps. 

Creating a Strong Defence

As disclosure is reviewed and received, we will begin crafting our theory of the case and any available defences available to you should the matter move forward to trial. These preparations will help us discuss the weaknesses of the case with the Crown in order to facilitate a resolution before trial.


Throughout this process, we will communicate with you to keep you updated on how the case is proceeding as well as with the Crown.

Crown Negotiations

We will prepare for and conduct a Counsel Pre-Trial (CPT) meeting with the Crown in order to narrow issues for trial or understand if an alternative resolution can be reached prior to trial such as a withdrawal of the charge. 

Judicial Pre-Trials

A JPT will be conducted with Crown and defence counsel in order to determine the time required for trial and narrow the issues for trial. 

Gathering Further Evidence

Prior to trial, we will meet with witnesses to conduct interviews and gather any additional evidence required in your defence.

Trial Court Preparations

Finally, if no resolution has been met through CPT or JPT meetings, we will schedule and prepare for trial. This involves preparing direct and cross-examinations, interviewing witnesses, and conducting legal research to prepare arguments. 

Trial Services

As mentioned, throughout the pre-trial phase, our team will be looking for opportunities to resolve the case without going to trial if it is in the best interests of the client. Trials are time-consuming to prepare for and costly. Even with a strong defence, there is no guarantee of success in a trial. However, a trial is sometimes necessary to achieve the best results when no other resolution is favourable. 

Trial Scheduling

Depending on the complexity of the case, the trial may be scheduled several months in the future. Under the R v Jordan framework, a trial must be heard within 18 months in the Ontario Court of Justice or within 30 months in the Superior Court of Justice from the time the accused is charged.

Trial Costs

The cost of a trial depends entirely on the length of the trial as well as the complexity of the case.  We will provide an estimate of the trial costs in our retainer letter so you can understand what costs may be involved. 

After Trial

Once the trial is concluded, the verdict in the case will be delivered either at the end of the trial or at a later date. We will represent you for sentencing submissions if you are found guilty, or the case will be completed if you are found not guilty. 

Get a Free Case Evaluation

If you’re interested in hearing about how Pyzer Criminal Lawyers can help in your case, consider booking a case consultation with us. We will take the time to understand your case and how can assist you in preparing the best possible defence in your matter.

CTA Solo Jonathan Pyzer
Protect Your Feedom
Don’t delay. Call Pyzer Criminal Law today.
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