Say Carl the criminal is a bad guy who's rich. One day, he gets caught. They confiscate his phone and lock him up and deny bail. How is Carl supposed to find a good lawyer? He's locked up and doesn't have access to the internet or even his phone contacts. To be clear, he has tons of money that the very best lawyers would work for. But it means nothing if he can't search online for who's good, etc.

Or is it the case that they let Carl use a laptop and access Yelp or something to look for good lawyers?

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    Why do you think he can’t have visitors or make a phone call from jail? Commented Feb 9, 2023 at 16:51
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    @GeorgeWhite Carl would want to shop around for a good lawyer, right? He can't just hope the best lawyer money can buy happens to visit him. Nor can he be expected to have memorized the number of that amazing lawyer.
    – chausies
    Commented Feb 9, 2023 at 16:55
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    @chausies nope, he'd already have a lawyer under retainer, probably more than one, who will be under orders to find out what's happened to him if he can't be reached and doesn't contact them for more than say 24 hours without prior communication that he'll be out of contact.
    – jwenting
    Commented Feb 10, 2023 at 7:31
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    Good lawyers are not sitting around waiting for clients to show up. They have existing clients that they actively take care of. If Carl got arrested, a really good lawyer might be waiting at the station for him.
    – Nelson
    Commented Feb 10, 2023 at 8:52
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    Police are required to provide a list of lawyers and allow the defendant to make calls on station phones to lawyers (You don't have a right to "one phone call", but most cops are more than happy to give you as many as you need. They do have to let you contact a lawyer and they can't say "no more calls" if the call fails to connect.).
    – hszmv
    Commented Feb 10, 2023 at 11:23

4 Answers 4


If Carl is rich, he already has a lawyer.

Even if he doesn't already have a lawyer, he can hire the first lawyer he finds to find him another lawyer more to his liking.

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    This is very often how it works. As a lawyer who does not criminal work myself, I have trusted quality criminal lawyers in my contact list that I refer people like my non-criminal case clients to when a client or someone they know needs one. I have a little "emergency legal response" spiel to tide my clients over for a few days until they can get a real criminal lawyer. When my kids were teen, I gave them a business card from one of them to carry with them just in case.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Feb 9, 2023 at 18:53
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    Is it common for lawyers to recommend their own competitors when the client requests it? I can't imagine, say, going to a car mechanic and asking for recommendations for other car mechanics (unless the issue I have is one that the first mechanic can't help me with). Commented Feb 10, 2023 at 2:11
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    @TannerSwett A criminal-defense lawyer is not a competitor of a lawyer who handles contracts and wills, or taxes. Different kinds of lawyers.
    – Davislor
    Commented Feb 10, 2023 at 3:51
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    It is very common to make such referrals. There are often agreements in place by which the referring lawyer may get a cut of the client's fee.
    – bdb484
    Commented Feb 10, 2023 at 4:44
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    @TannerSwett Yes. This happens every day. When a new client calls, I'm far more likely to refer them out to a competitor than to actually work with them. I may not have the time, or the legal questions may be better suited to someone with a different specialty, or the venue may be one where I don't want to do work, even though I'm licensed there.
    – bdb484
    Commented Feb 10, 2023 at 13:11

Everyone who has been arrested and is held in custody at a police station is entitled to free and independent legal advice (FILA) - see section 58 Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE).

If Carl doesn't know of, or can't contact, a solicitor he can get one from the on-call duty solicitor list available from the custody officer at the police station.

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    But then Carl is at the mercy of a list curated by people who want him imprisoned, no? There's no reason to expect he'd find the best lawyers money can buy on that list. In the extreme case, what's stopping that list from being filled with mediocre lawyers that barely pass?
    – chausies
    Commented Feb 9, 2023 at 16:58
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    @chausies Things work differently this side of the Atlantic!
    – user35069
    Commented Feb 9, 2023 at 17:00
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    @chausies Carl is entitled to a lawyer; he isn’t entitled to the best unless he sources that himself
    – Dale M
    Commented Feb 9, 2023 at 19:47
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    @Chausies: On top of what Dale M said - if he has a truly mediocre lawyer that barely passes, he theoretically is allowed to appeal on ineffective counsel; though there is a limit to what ineffective counsel counts as, it does exist as a method to handle an outcome in the extreme case. The cost of handling said appeals, even if they fail, is what stops that list from being filled with mediocre lawyers that barely pass. Commented Feb 10, 2023 at 2:10
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    @chausies the court appointed lawyer is typically one who dreams of winning a big case so they can draw the attention of a prestigious law firm and get hired at a much higher salary, or they're dreamers who take the job on principal of "wanting to see justice" and don't mind the poor salary. All those people will usually do their best for the client, or find someone who can do better.
    – jwenting
    Commented Feb 10, 2023 at 7:36

Generally, police and prosecution want convictions to happen and stick. They do not want convictions tossed out by an appeals court on the argument that the defendant was denied access to counsel.

As such, the authorities will bend over backwards to make sure the defendant has access to independent counsel.

Now that the defendant has a lawyer sworn to serve their legal interests, they now have a minion on the outside who will serve their requirements, certainly including recruiting more high-powered counsel.


Carl has a right to have someone informed of his arrest (PACE, section 56):

Where a person has been arrested and is being held in custody in a police station or other premises, he shall be entitled, if he so requests, to have one friend or relative or other person who is known to him or who is likely to take an interest in his welfare told, as soon as is practicable except to the extent that delay is permitted by this section, that he has been arrested and is being detained there.

He should choose as that person someone he expects to find and engage the most suitable lawyer (or to make sure that happens), as well as to collect the children, feed the chickens and turn off the oven.


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