Being arrested or otherwise getting involved with the police can be a stressful, frightening, and (often) humbling experience. Whether it’s your first encounter or fifth, each incident is unique and should be treated seriously. The best course of action is to speak with a competent, respected attorney who specializes in criminal defense law as soon as possible. But what should you say when you speak with her? Does attorney-client privilege protect everything you say? And what can you do to be your own best advocate?

Your first meeting. At the risk of stating the obvious, your first meeting with your criminal defense lawyer is significant. It marks the deciding moments of if you are suited to work with each other to achieve a common goal. To give your attorney proper understanding of who you are and where you come from, be sure to provide detailed personal and background information. Be mindful that your attorney may ask questions that may seem unrelated to your case, but she knows the pertinent information to gather about your personal and business background that may help you fight (and win) your case.

Honesty is the best policy. For anyone who has seen Law & Order, Boston Legal, or Perry Mason you know your conversations with your attorney are protected by the attorney-client privilege. What this means is that no one – including the person paying the legal bills, if that is not you – has access to what you share with your attorney. Your attorney will know many of the important questions to ask, but he or she will also want to know all the details that only you know. She may ask questions like this:

• What you saw, heard, and did or did not do
• What you said and to whom
• Who else was involved
• What others said or did

Your attorney may have questions about the police officers involved in your arrest, such as:

• Where were you when they arrested you?
• How were you approached by the arresting officers?
• What did the officers say?
• What did they do leading up to, during, and after your arrest?
• Precisely how and when did they do each of the things that they did?

The questioning may seem tedious, but your cooperation is important, as the information gleaned may identify pertinent information, wrongful police conduct, leads, alibis, witnesses, and more.

A good rule of thumb is before you leave your first meeting, think to yourself, “Are there any questions my attorney didn’t ask, but should have?” If so, go ahead and offer that information on your own. And, by all means, never lie to your attorney, no matter how bad you think the information may be. Your attorney has likely heard much worse, but, more importantly, she can’t help you if she doesn’t know all the facts. And being surprised by the district attorney with information you withheld could ruin your chance at freedom.

Bring Paperwork. Along with a good willingness to cooperate, bring any paperwork related to your arrest or incident. These documents may include paperwork that describe the offense with which you’ve been charged (this could be a misdemeanor complaint or information, felony complaint, or indictment), supporting affidavits, Orders of Protection, receipts for property taken by police, upcoming court dates, bail papers, etc. Also, prepare a list of helpful witnesses to your defense case, such as people who can corroborate your story, saw the events of the crime, can confirm your alibi, can testify to your character, or have any damaging evidence that can undermine the case against you. And if you have a prior criminal history, any information on your previous cases would be also helpful. The more you bring, the better. Let your attorney make the decision about what’s relevant.

Conclusion. In short, preparation for your first meeting with your criminal defense attorney is critical. It will also help ease the stress of the situation because it allows you take ownership of the process and contribute positively toward your representation. Strong preparation will save time and money – and most of all, maximize your chances at a favorable outcome.