Finding An Attorney
This article first appeared in the Network's October 2008 journal. For additional discussion of this important topic, please also read "Finding the Right Attorney," plus discussion in our Attorney Question of the Month column from attorneys themselves on forging a relationship with an attorney.
by Marty Hayes, J.D.
As members of the Network have discovered by watching our three DVDs, we believe the armed citizen needs to carry in their wallet or purse the name and phone number of a local attorney, who is a member of the local bar association, on whom they can call as soon as the cops show up and start asking questions after a shooting. So how does one find that attorney?
First, one of the benefits of being a member of the Network is having access to our Attorney Referral list. But, as our members know, we do not yet have a lot of names on that list. That will change over time, and one of the primary missions of the Network is to expand that list and make it a valuable part of the member benefit package. We will not rest until we have at least one attorney in every state, and every major metropolitan area in the country. But, until that time, you still need an attorney! This article will help you find that attorney. And, when you do find that attorney, we would appreciate his or her name, since the contact is valuable to other Network members living in or visiting your city or county.
So, how can you go about finding an attorney? If you have a family attorney, ask if he or she would be willing to come to the scene of a shooting and protect your legal rights, should that become necessary. The attorney doesn’t have to be pro-gun, although that would obviously help.
Another locale ripe for finding that attorney is your local gun rights organization and your gun club. I suspect that most gun clubs have attorneys who are also members, because attorneys like to shoot, too. Of course, the gun club may have its own attorney to handle routine legal matters, and that professional would also be a great prospect. Likewise, many gun shop proprietors have an attorney who tends to routine legal matters, so ask your local gun shop owner if they know a good attorney in the area. I bet you will get a lead or two that way.
Finally, how about your friends? Simply ask your pro-gun friends for the name of their attorney. If they, too, don’t have an attorney, make it a “friends” project to hunt down and secure a local attorney, and share what you find with one another.
Why Do You Rob Banks, Willie?
Legend has it that when asked that question, notorious bank robber Willie Sutton responded, “Because that’s where the money is!” Sutton’s memoir asserts that he never actually gave that answer, and claims it was a reporter’s fiction. Still, the quote clings to Sutton’s memory and legend. What does this have to do with finding a lawyer?
To paraphrase, “Where can I find a lawyer?”
“Go where the lawyers are!” That means check with your local bar association. A Google search for your county bar association will turn up attorneys’ phone numbers, so give them a call. (It’s free, and just takes a minute). Tell whomever answers that you are looking for a pro-gun attorney to represent you in a legal matter, and ask for a referral. The responses might be interesting, but what do you have to lose? In a rural county, the person answering might just start talking about their favorite blaster with you! If you don’t get a good referral, ask if there is a way you can pose the question to the local bar association. In my local bar association, several attorneys are shooters and one is the president of a gun club.
Finally, what would be the harm of simply looking in the Yellow Pages and making a few phone calls? “Hello, my name is John Smith, and I am looking for a pro-gun attorney to represent me on a legal matter. Do you know if any of your attorneys are shooters?” Now, it might take a few (free) phone calls to find one, but how difficult could that be? Once you get a positive response, make an appointment to confer with him or her.
One last area that might be fruitful is this: ask a local police officer which lawyers they respect in the area, or whom they might call if they needed an attorney. A police officer regularly sees many attorneys, and the officer you query likely has already selected an attorney to call in a legal emergency. In addition, the local union or fraternal organization that represents police officers has attorneys to represent the police officer in the event they shoot someone. This person or firm is also worth calling.
Closing The Deal
Okay, let’s say you find a pro-gun attorney, and want to interview him or her. (For the sake of readability, I will switch to the pronoun “him,” though I mean no disrespect to women lawyers.) Start by explaining that you are a member of the Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network, and that you have been advised to seek an attorney to handle any future legal matters that might arise because you are an armed citizen. Do not say, “in case I shoot someone,” or the lawyer may think you are a Looney Tune.
Tell him that you have a license to carry a concealed weapon, and have no criminal background. Explain that you are simply worried that if you need to defend your family or yourself, you might be arrested, so you want the name of an attorney you can call should this happen. Next, request an appointment to meet, and ask about his hourly fee. Be up front about any costs. Professionals like to get any financial matters out of the way first. Some attorneys have a “first consultation free” policy, others don’t. Explain that during this meeting you would like to review any statutory and case law for your state regarding self defense, and ask him if that is something he can research for you. If he can’t, I recommend moving on to the next “applicant” in your lawyer search. If he isn’t even interested enough to do a Westlaw search, then you need to find a more concerned attorney.
Go into this search realizing that you may have to make three or four phone calls, but when you do find the one attorney who is enthused about your request, you likely have found your guy or gal. Lastly, be sure to ascertain that there is some reasonable way for you to contact the attorney after work hours. A pager number, cell phone or answering service should suffice. If he categorically states that he will not give you after hours contact information, then thank him for his time and move on.
When you go to your appointment, present a professional image. If you can, wear a sport coat and tie, but if nothing else, dress like you are at a job interview. If you go armed, please conceal discreetly. The lawyer and their staff should never know you are armed. Take along copies of your certificates of training. If things go well in the meeting, and the attorney agrees to do so, you may want him to start a documentation file for you. Also, you might want to copy and print the printable brochure from the Network’s web site, along with anything else from the web site that will explain your membership in the Network and what it means.
In addition, if you have already researched the statutes on self-defense for your state and applicable case law, bring any notes, state laws and other study materials to the meeting. Use a highlighter and mark any portion on which you want clarification. While the attorney should also have printed out applicable state and case law, if their court schedule or an earlier client ran over time, you will have written materials to which you can refer.
Vetting The Attorney
Each state has a state bar association, listing member attorneys practicing in that state. Before your meeting, look up the lawyer’s name on the state bar association web site, and find out some information about him. You should be able to find out how long they have been practicing, where they went to law school, and possibly if they have had any bar complaints against them. It would be good to know this information ahead of time. A bar complaint doesn’t prove the complaint was valid, but it sure will impress your new attorney if you ask about it and let him explain what happened. Many times, clients file illegitimate bar complaints, in much the same way that armed citizens are wrongfully prosecuted.
Do you have a will? If not, ask if the attorney can help you prepare a will, since everyone needs one anyway. That helps cement your relationship, and is an easy test of how he works and the efficiency of his firm. There might be some other legal questions that have been pestering you for some time, and since you are paying for his time and expertise, you might as well ask them at your meeting.
My Closing Argument
Please understand, readers, that an armed citizen is only one small step away from being embroiled in the legal system to an extent that many gun owners cannot begin to fathom. If you shoot some, you REALLY need legal representation, and you need it immediately.
You don’t need a high priced criminal defense attorney. After all, you didn’t commit a crime, did you? But you do need someone to interface with the police as quickly as possible after the incident, before you answer questions with the police. In our DVDs, sent to each Network member when they join, we explain our views of how to best handle the initial interaction with the police, and if you follow that advice we believe law enforcement will treat you more professionally.
Even so, until we have attorneys in your area, it is incumbent upon you to find an attorney who can protect your rights after a shooting. And, when you do, please share the name with us, and perhaps he can become a Network Affiliated Attorney and thus a Network member, too. In the end, we’ll all be stronger.
Marty Hayes is the president of the Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network, LLC, holds a Juris Doctor degree and is a former police officer. In addition to operating a regional firearms training academy, working as a court-recognized expert witness keeps him busy.
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