The Network has long recommended that armed citizens get to know an attorney before needing legal representation after use of force in self defense. A client who wants to meet with an attorney absent a pending legal issue is unusual for many criminal defense law firms and as a result acting on this advice can be difficult. With this in mind, we asked our Affiliated Attorneys to comment on the pre-need consultation with this question–

We understand that law firms are busy places focused on defending people with current legal problems. How do you recommend a Network member who does not have a pending legal issue connect with an attorney for a brief consultation to be sure the member understands their state’s self-defense laws, while getting to know the attorney they'll call to protect their rights after self defense?

Our affiliated attorneys responded–

John I. Harris III
Schulman, LeRoy & Bennett PC
PO Box 190676, Nashville, TN 37219
615-244 6670

Lawyers and law firms–well, good ones–stay busy. Many have schedules that are often planned months if not years in advance if they handle complex business and commercial litigation, particularly in federal courts.

Yet, members are correctly advised that they can and should know who they will call if a need suddenly arises involving a possible self-defense scenario. Indeed, to help guard against the potential that a member will even have to call on an attorney in response to suddenly being thrust into a situation involving law enforcement and potential criminal investigations, it is prudent for a member who plans to carry a firearm on a regular basis to meet with an attorney and discuss the specifics of the law because, unfortunately, the training that is required in some states, such as Tennessee, simply is not enough and is too often written and designed by state officials who may not even carry a firearm themselves.

It is sound advice that a member seek proper training and counsel to prepare for the “what if” that we all hope never materializes. While that may include the right kind of training, it should also include the right measure of discussion and understanding of the maze of laws and cases which could suddenly come into play if the situation arises. That kind of preparation really only comes from a one-on-one or perhaps small group session with an experienced attorney.

On a regular basis, I will receive calls from armed citizens wanting to know if I “still handle” cases involving self defense and firearms possession. Frequently, these calls are not looking for a true consult but are just wanting to mark off an item on the “to-do” list. Frequently, all that call does is confirm that the phone number or email address is still good but it does not result in the kind of relationship or exploration of issues that comes with an office or small group session with the attorney.

As the attorney, what do I recommend? Make the appointment and take it seriously. Have a list of questions or concerns that you want to discuss. But also, be prepared to address other topics such as “if you think you have a need or desire to carry a gun for self defense, do you also have an estate plan should something go wrong?” Take the time to make an appointment to spend thirty minutes to an hour with an attorney. You might find you have needs or even misunderstandings that you were not aware of. You might also find that knowing an attorney in advance of having a need is time well spent that may help you avoid ever needing the “self-defense” services in the future. 

James B. Fleming
PO Box 1569, Monticello, MN 55362

This is a valuable question for the Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network journal to delve into. There is so much bad information out there on the issues, and often times, inexperienced attorneys do not understand what they are getting into with a true self-defense case. Attorneys do not need to have an in-depth understanding of all the issues (firearms, cutting instruments, impact weapons, ballistics, human physiology, crime scene investigation, the effects of adrenaline on perception and short-term memory, the unreliability of eye-witness testimony, etc.) but they do need to have sufficient background and understanding of all of these issues to recognize when any of these issues arise in a given case–and when they don’t–and they need to have a resource of known and reliable experts that they can reach out to who can address these issues–that is if they intend to do any sort of a proper professional job of providing legal representation to their clients.

For example, over the last five years, I have truly spent twice as much time working as an expert/consultant for other attorneys around the country on a number of these issues, than I have representing my own clients in self-defense cases and I have still dealt directly with seven of my own cases. But, I have worked hard to build my quiver of experts, in the event that I need them in some new case that pops up, whether it is my case, or that of a colleague who needs help.

Once the member has identified an attorney as one who holds themselves out as having experience in dealing with self-defense cases, either from the criminal, or civil side, (for they are not the same areas of law at all), then contact the office and ask to set up an appointment for an hour-long consultation. Attorneys will most likely charge for that hour; our time and expertise are all we have to sell. So, come prepared with a concise list of questions that you can present to the attorney to be covered at that initial meeting.

Modernly, attorneys do not charge “retainers” which historically were fees paid to ensure that the attorney would be available to take your case. Make sure that you have a complete understanding of the attorney’s fee structure, hourly rates, and policies on fee deposits, minimum fees and payment of various defense costs. Attorneys may not ethically advance money to clients for the payments of costs such as expert fees, independent laboratory fees, and other case-associated out of pocket expenses that MAY come up in a given case.

Make sure that a discussion is held during which the attorney advises the member of his/her expectations of how the member will respond to ANY initial questioning that law enforcement attempts to conduct prior to the attorney showing up to assist the member. And cover the issue of who will be responsible for communicating with the attorney in the initial post-incident call, seeking to bring the attorney to the member’s location, to begin providing legal services.

Richard H. Seaton, Jr.
410 Humboldt St., Manhattan, KS 66502

I suggest asking the member to contact the Network directly for a referral. [Editor’s note: While the Network does not refer members to attorneys, our members may log in to our website to view our affiliated attorney listings which may assist them in attorney selection.]

Making contact with and meeting the lawyer prior to your defensive encounter seems imperative. You don’t want to try and establish that all-important relationship under the pressure of potential pending legal proceedings.

In my office I do not charge for initial half hour consults with ACLDN members or my concealed carry students.

Reed Martz
Freeland Martz, PLLC
302 Enterprise Drive, Suite A, Oxford, MS 38655

Call or email the attorney via the contact information provided on his/her firm’s website or bar directory. If s/he does not promptly respond with information about how to schedule an appointment then you have your answer. If a prospective client cannot reach an attorney within a reasonable period of time then that client cannot be assured the attorney will be available on short notice during their time of need. Our firm measures our response time in minutes, not days. If I agree to a prospective representation then I will give the client my cell phone number to reach me on nights and weekends.
A big "Thank You!" to our affiliated attorneys for their contributions to this column. Please return next month when we share the rest of the responses to this question from our affiliated attorneys.

To read more of this month's journal, please click here.