I have talked to a number of white collar defendants over the years … hundreds of them. They all have one thing in common, they had never heard of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.
Crimes that involve financial or economic crimes, are often enforced by federal laws and federal agencies. Unlike local or state laws (drunk driving, thefts, assault, violence) federal law prosecutions focus on white collar crime, drug offenses and sex offenses (there are plenty of ways to get in trouble so I’m mentioning only a few). Federal laws are very different from state laws and that means you need a lawyer with experience.
Your first step is finding an attorney, and plan on spending a lot of money. White collar criminal defense attorneys can be pricey. As one good friend of mine who is an attorney told me, “I don’t even know if I could afford myself.” You need to consult with your family, look at your resources then determine how much you can spend on defense. Note to file, just because you don’t want to spend money on an attorney does not mean you will get one appointed for free. If you have financial assets, you will have to pay for your defense.
It can cost anywhere from $50,000 (low end) to just plead guilty early on, then up to millions in the event that a case is taken all the way through trial. The range is wide because some of these cases rely on experts (forensic accountants, public relations, jury experts, specialists and experts … then attorneys doing a vast amount of research). It takes a considerable amount of time to just explain the case to an attorney, and most charge $300-$1,000/hour.
So how do you go about hiring an attorney? First, don’t think that you have to go with a big firm to get the best representation. A number of large firms have tremendous practices, but they come with a lot of overhead. You are looking for a lawyer, not just a firm. With that said, many big cities have a number of boutique firms that primarily focus on federal cases. You can look for cases in the local news, see who the attorney is, and try to gauge their area of expertise. You can also go to resources like the American Bar Association and National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) … both sites are bit difficult to navigate but they can be helpful.
Pick a few lawyers, and, like you would do if you were hiring someone, interview them All lawyers will sit down and speak with you and some may charge a fee for a consultation, which is well worth it. The person that you choose will be your new therapist, legal adviser and confidant … at the cost of several hundred dollars an hour. You don’t have to like them, but you have to be able to work with them.
During your consultation you would:
- Provide an overview of your case
- Ask about past criminal cases and the outcome of those cases
- Discuss how the attorney will approach the case
- Discuss the outcome the attorney believes might occur
- Ask about fees
- Let the attorney tell you why you should hire them
After this, you sit, you think and then you pick. When considering an attorney you need to think about what has transpired that brings you to an attorney, where you are in the process (have others been indicted, your role in the alleged fraud, likelihood others will cooperate against you) and evaluate what you might be able to contribute to any law enforcement action.
You should know that going into the possibility of federal charges that the odds are heavily against defendants. As I wrote in a popular Forbes post, almost all federal indictments end in favor of the prosecution (most of those through guilty pleas). They does not mean you should plead guilty! Pleading guilty comes with its own risks … like giving up pretty much ever right you have to appeal, right to a jury, etc. People just need to know the odds, calculate those odds and how they relate to your personal situations, and make a decision.
All of the above can be taxing, which is why you would engage a firm like ours. We navigate this entire process from beginning to end, and it is a process. It is not uncommon for federal cases to go many months or years until it is resolved.