What Makes a Good Criminal Defense Lawyer?

Life changes after you are arrested for a crime, even if you make bail. The consequences of choosing an incompetent (or even mediocre) criminal defense lawyer can be catastrophic. Following is a description of some of the qualities of a good criminal defense lawyer.



Does your lawyer care whether you go to prison or win an acquittal? A lawyer has a duty to represent their client to the best of their ability. Empathy is the ability (and the willingness) to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and imagine how they might feel. Empathy in a criminal lawyer is important because it is highly motivating. All other factors being equal, a criminal defense lawyer who empathizes with their client will do their job far more effectively.  

A Practice Area Focus on Criminal Law

Suppose you graduate from law school, pass the bar exam, and obtain a license to practice law. At that point, Kentucky allows you to practice almost any form of law (patent law is one of the few exceptions). 

Some lawyers use this freedom to open “buffet” practices. In the morning, they might set up a trust fund for a client. In the afternoon, they might appear in court to represent a client accused of drug trafficking. That evening they might draft a business contract. Avoid these types of lawyers, because the diversity of their experience prevents them from mastering any area of law, including criminal defense

Substantial Experience in Criminal Defense Law

Focusing on criminal defense is important, but it is not enough. Your lawyer should possess years of experience focusing on criminal defense law. Inexperienced lawyers can be effective in supporting roles, but they should not take the lead in defending you against a criminal prosecution. Your lawyer’s experience should be enough to allow them to recognize every trick in the prosecution’s playbook.

Local Experience

Every jurisdiction is different. Courts in various cities can apply the same written law inconsistently, and different judges can view the law in different ways. The personalities of the major players matter, as do the professional relationships between your lawyer and the local judges and prosecutors. The law firm you select should have at least one lawyer with extensive experience representing clients in Lexington, Kentucky.

Experience as a Prosecutor

At least one firm member should have prior experience working as a prosecutor. Prosecutors have their own way of thinking, and there’s no better way to “read their minds” than to work as a prosecutor and switch to criminal defense. When it comes time to predict what the prosecutor’s next move will be, they will be thinking, “If I was still a prosecutor, what would I do next in this situation?” 

Communication Skills

A lawyer needs good verbal and written communication skills. Fortunately, you can begin evaluating a lawyer’s verbal communication skills during your initial consultation with them. Are they persuasive? Can they explain complex ideas in simple language that non-lawyers can understand? Is your lawyer’s written correspondence clear and concise, or is it filled with obscure “legalese”?

If your case goes to trial, your lawyer will need to exercise their powers of persuasion when addressing the judge and the jury. They will also have to submit written documents to the court. Don’t hire a lawyer you can’t communicate with.

Attention to Detail

Every case is a complex and unique combination of facts and law. No two cases are alike, and no two clients are alike. In a criminal case, in one sense, there are no details; almost anything could be important. 

A nearly undetectable defect in a search warrant, for example, could be enough to convince the judge to exclude all evidence gained from the search. This could result in the dismissal of your charges. There are a thousand other ways that a “detail” might make all the difference in your case and in your life.

It is difficult to tell from meeting your lawyer how detail-oriented they might be. In an initial consultation, one way might be to check to see if the lawyer remembers some “detail”  that you revealed earlier in the consultation. If they have already forgotten what you told them, take note.


The prosecution has immense resources to draw upon. If this intimidates you, you are not alone. If it intimidates your lawyer, though, you might need a new lawyer. A good criminal lawyer must be immune to intimidation tactics, and they must be bold enough to aggressively pursue any weakness in the prosecution’s case.

Remember, aggressiveness and tact are not mutually exclusive. Ideally, your lawyer should possess both attributes. It is nearly impossible to overemphasize the importance of intelligent aggressiveness. A sufficiently aggressive lawyer could win you an acquittal or shave years off your sentence.


It is challenging to maintain your objectivity when your freedom and reputation are at stake. As a third party, a criminal defense lawyer is in a better position to maintain objectivity. Your lawyer’s objectivity can help you keep cool, too. You don’t want to lose your cool while you are making major case decisions.


Can your lawyer keep a secret? Kentucky law treats private attorney-client conversations, as well as other information relating to your lawyer’s representation, as confidential. A lawyer who reveals these confidences to others has violated the confidentiality obligations set by the Kentucky Bar Association. The consequences could include sanctions up to and including disbarment.

It is not likely that your lawyer will violate your confidence. Nevertheless, your lawyer may need to reveal details of your case to other members of their firm so that the firm can work together to defend you. If your lawyer violates your confidences, attorney-client privilege prevents anyone from using this information against you.

Strong Negotiation Skills

Many criminal cases settle through a plea bargain with the prosecution. Prosecutors agree to plea bargains when they are uncertain whether they can win at trial or when their caseload is so heavy they don’t have time to try every defendant they prosecute. 

If you decide to plea bargain, your lawyer is going to need to possess the skills necessary to bargain with the prosecution. This is no easy task since prosecutors negotiate plea bargains every day. Your lawyer needs a strong track record in negotiating favorable plea deals.

A Skilled Criminal Defense Attorney Is a Practical Necessity

Representing yourself is a bad idea, even if you are a lawyer. Likewise, it makes no sense to hire an inexperienced criminal lawyer, even if the lawyer enjoys decades of experience in other areas of law. You need someone experienced in criminal defense law right here in Lexington, Kentucky. Contact Suhre & Associates DUI and Criminal Defense Lawyers, today at (859) 569-4014 to learn about your rights and your options. We can even visit you in jail if necessary.