What is a criminal lawyer and what does he do?

by | Aug 18, 2022 | Publications

Law consists of three basic rules or principles: to live honestly, not to harm others, and to give everyone their own.” This was the definition of law given by Domicio Ulpiano more than two thousand years ago. Could  be completely agree or question whether it is correct this maxim, however both in ancient Rome as in the present is essential to know about the law because it is within the framework of the laws in which our daily life develops and, it is worth remembering, that ignorance of the rules does not excuse us from complying with them.

If you are a citizen, a businessman or a public servant who wants to know what a criminal lawyer is and what does, today we want to share a guide about it. We hope it will be a helpful reading!

What is and what does a criminal lawyer do?

A criminal lawyer is a specialized professional who defends or represents people or companies that have been accused of the alleged commission of a crime. This defense is carried out before the judicial instances (courts or tribunals) or through the alternative means of conflict resolution.

In his work he fulfills important roles as interviewer, researcher, evidence analyst, creator of case strategies, advisor, negotiator and of course defender. Similarly, fulfills the preventive function when advising to prevent the commission of crimes and to mitigate criminal risks on business ethics and public policy culture.

His expertise is in Criminal Law, that is, in the set of rules issued by the State that regulate crime, punishment and security measures, and in the procedural rules that allow the application of the law in particular cases.

Therefore, being advised by a qualified lawyer is essential  to know your legal situation in case of being affected by any crime or punishable act.


What are the requirements to be a criminal lawyer?

The requirements are set by each State through its legislation and can be diverse, some more restrictive than others. In general, the minimum requirement to be a criminal lawyer is to have the professional title of Lawyer granted by a Higher Education Institution authorized by the corresponding Ministry of Education.

In the particular case of Panama, any person who wishes to work as a criminal lawyer must follow the following steps established by law:

  1. Be a Panamanian national
  2. Possess a bachelor’s degree in Law or bachelor’s degree in Law and Political Science from a University accredited by the National Council for University Evaluation and Accreditation of Panama.
  3. Request suitability before the Supreme Court of Justice according to the procedure established by the judicial body. To do this, must be submitted to the Supreme Court of Justice:
    • The birth certificate stamped with three (3) balboas in stamp duty or pay it at the MEF, General Directorate of Income, National Bank or Savings Bank.
    • A photocopy of the diploma, checked before a Notary.
    • A passport size photo, formal, men in suit and tie and women in suit or blazer.
    • Power of attorney and request based on facts and law
  4. Pay B/.10.00 in the Treasury Department of the Judicial Organ, ground floor of the Palace of Justice.
  5. Once the documentation has been presented to the Fourth Chamber of the Supreme Court, the applicant must take the Induction Seminar at the Higher Institute of the Judiciary.
  6. Finally, to pick up the Suitability, the seminar and the payment in the Savings Bank of B /.58.00 in stamp duty must be accredited.

These would be the formal and legal requirements to be a lawyer, however the competence and sufficiency to become a criminal lawyer are determined by:

  • The level of knowledge in the area of Criminal Law, acquired through professional experience and/or strengthened with specific studies in Criminal Law.
  • Strategic thinking in the approach to the case.
  • The ability to argue based on the evidence around what happened, which generates conviction in its theory of the case.

How to be a good criminal lawyer?

In José María Castillo y Asociados we are convinced that these are the characteristics and competences that every good criminal lawyer must have:

  • Communication skills: having a command of both oral and written language will enable the lawyer to express his or her arguments in a clear, persuasive and concise manner. The client will also benefit from a clear understanding of the client’s situation. Debate and public speaking exercises can be a good strategy to strengthen this skill. 
  • Analytical skills: refers to the comprehensive understanding of the case, a criminal lawyer must be able to study any situation and analyze it from all points of view. For example, from the point of view of the prosecutor, the judge, etc. It must also be able to test its own arguments to establish its soundness. Due to the implementation of oral trials, the lawyer must be able to analyze theses and generate coherent and well-argued immediate responses. 
  • Creativity: The best lawyers are not only logical and analytical but show great creativity in problem solving. The best solution is not always the most obvious and often requires thinking outside the box.
  • Perseverance and discipline: When working on a case, you must have the strength to face each step of the way, positive results can only be achieved by putting all the effort into each of the stages to bring it to a successful conclusion.
  • Project Management: As the complexity of cases increases, the challenge of managing projects effectively. Maintaining an overall perspective, while managing the details of the strategy and fitting into a timeline, requires a set of skills that are often not considered part of the attorney’s job.
  • Ease Listening: it is the ability to actively listen to the client, which allows us to understand their concerns and offer comprehensive advice.
  • Negotiation Talent: Good criminal lawyers are negotiators, seek to leave all parties understand that a reasonable outcome was achieved, rather than trying to run over the counterparty. It means you get a fair result and feel good about your result. It means that the outcome is also workable and has the ability to stay.
  • Researcher: to prepare legal strategies it is important to be curious about knowledge, investigate various sources of law and understand large amounts of information.

If you’re a student looking for advice on How to be a good lawyer, start by analyzing your capabilities. If you discover that you don’t have one or more of these qualities, consider working on them. You will use each of these skills every day. The last thing a client wants is a mediocre lawyer!

If you are a public servant, businessman or citizen looking for the best criminal lawyer to protect, defend and advise you, be very observant and review from the first contact with your law firm that have these characteristics so that the outcome of your dispute has a greater chance of being successful.

When to hire a criminal lawyer?

If you, a loved one, or your company are facing legal problems, probably the question on your mind is: when you should hire an attorney? There are many elements to consider and often the main concern is costs. This is a completely justified concern, considering that the fees of a good criminal lawyer can be high. However, hiring a lawyer early often results in a considerable reduction in expenses in the future. Additionally, your future may be at stake, and you will only have one chance to defend yourself. Never enter a courtroom improvising!

Here are some cases in which it is necessary to hire a criminal lawyer:

  • You have been the victim of or faces charges of money laundering or financial crimes.
  • You have been a victim of or faces charges of domestic violence.
  • You have been a victim of or faces charges of fraud or misappropriation.
  • You have been the victim of or faces charges for accidents that resulted in death or injury.
  • You have been a victim of or faces charges of crimes against the public faith.
  • You have been a victim of or faces charges  for influence peddling.
  • Suspicion of improper conduct or crime in your company or business.

A criminal lawyer will be able to help you both from the point of view of initial advice when considering whether to file a complaint or lawsuit, and from a more practical point of view once the citizen is already immersed in a criminal case or proceeding or at any prior to it.

To summarize, when to hire a criminal defense lawyer? The answer is that you can never say “too soon.” The sooner you can have a lawyer you trust, the better your chances of avoiding a lengthy legal battle that will wear you and your family down.

What is the cost of a criminal lawyer?

The costs of criminal lawyers are usually calculated based on several factors. These may include: the kind of advice, the attorney’s notoriety or experience, the complexity of the legal issues in the case, and the procedural stages to exhaust, to name a few. Therefore, it is important when choosing a criminal lawyer to discuss fees before reaching an agreement.

In Panama there is no specific rate for the collection of fees, however, minimum rates have been regulated that obey the nature of the matter, without prejudice to the common agreement that establishes a higher rate.

In relation to criminal matters, Resolution No. 5 of November 14, 2016 of the National Bar Association of Panama indicates minimum rates ranging from $150 USD (Verbal Consultation) to $4,500 USD (Instances with national jurisdiction), giving priority in the Accusatory Criminal System to the agreement between the client and the lawyer.

What information is confidential between the client and the criminal lawyer?

Attorney-client confidentiality, sometimes called privilege or professional secrecy, is a rule that preserves the secrecy of attorney-client communications. Under which, attorneys may not disclose confidential information about their clients, nor can others compel them to do so. The purpose of this confidentiality agreement is to encourage clients to share information openly with their attorneys and allow them to provide effective representation.

In the case of Panama, professional secrecy is framed within the Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility of the Lawyer, which describes the following:

“Article 13. It is the duty of the lawyer to keep the secrets and confidences of his client. This must last even after the termination of the services and extends to the employees of the lawyer and neither he nor those may be forced to disclose such confidences  unless this is authorized by the client. A lawyer who is the subject of an accusation by his client may disclose the professional secrecy entrusted to him by his accuser, if necessary for his defense.”

Similarly, in each country are established the specific regulations governing attorney-client confidentiality. Additionally, there are judgments of international courts such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) that define international jurisprudence in relation to the professional secrecy of lawyers.

In general, the attorney-client privilege applies when:

  • In actual or potential client communicates with a lawyer about legal advice.
  • The lawyer is acting in his or her professional capacity (rather than, for example, as a friend).
  • The client intended the communications to be private and acts accordingly.

Attorneys may not disclose oral or written communications with their clients that they reasonably expect to remain private. An attorney who has received a client’s confidences cannot repeat them to anyone outside the legal team without the client’s consent. In that sense, the privilege is the client’s, not the lawyer’s: the client may decide to waive the privilege, but the lawyer cannot.

The privilege usually remains in effect even after the attorney-client relationship ends, and even after the client dies. In other words, the attorney can never divulge the client’s secrets without the client’s permission.

What is the difference between hiring my own attorney and a public defender?

It is a complex question to answer because in principle it depends on the particularity of each case. In Panama, the Public Defense Institute hires public defenders to assume the defense of people who do not have the resources to pay for a private defense before judicial instances, this with the purpose of guaranteeing due defense and due process within the framework of Human Rights.

On the other hand, private defense is one that the client contracts with his own resources to be used in his process. However, there are aspects such as resources or the qualification of the defender that limit and make the difference between the service of a public defense and that of a private defense. 

Some of the disadvantages of public defense are:

  • Attorney-client communication can be inefficient.
  • The constant rotation of defense attorneys.
  • The workload may exceed the capacity of the public defender.

How many criminal lawyers are there in Panama?

In Panama, from 1924 to date (2020) approximately 26,000 applications have been issued for law graduates. Because there is no regulation of professional practice by areas of knowledge, it is difficult to establish how many criminal lawyers there are in Panama, that is, how many litigate in the branch of Criminal Law. The unions, in this case the National Bar Association of Panama, could have information classified by area of professional practice.

Cantidad de abogados por género en Panamá

Today we have delved into what a criminal lawyer is and what he does. In the process some of the questions that we frequently hear from our clients have been answered, we hope that these answers have also been useful to solve their concerns.