As a specialist in computer crime law, I am occasionally asked how to find a good defense lawyer in a computer crime case. If you’re a defendant who has been charged in a computer crime case, or you know someone who has been so charged, how do you pick a lawyer? I get this question often enough that I figured I would blog it, in part because I suspect people googling around for a computer crime lawyer might stumble across the post in their search.
The problem with finding a good defense lawyer for a computer crime case is that most defense lawyers are generalists. Defense lawyers often have solo practices, or work in small firms, and they take a very wide range of cases. They specialize in defending individuals against criminal charges, not in particular types of crimes. As a result, it is very hard to find a criminal defense lawyer with genuine expertise and experience in litigating computer crime cases — someone who can handle the statutory issues, knows how to handle expert witnesses, can raise needed Fourth Amendment challenges, and the like. Jennifer Granick comes to mind as one, but there are few others. (Some defense lawyers have websites proclaiming themselves as expert computer crime lawyers, but I would be skeptical about those claims.)
As a result, I think the best path for many defendants is just to hire a good defense lawyer with a good reputation, regardless of expertise in computer issues, and then to consider supplementing that lawyer by discussing the case with a subject-matter expert who can flag some of the issues in the case that a generalist would likely miss. I’ve served as such a subject-matter expert before, and I think it has worked out pretty well. The basic idea is to have an expert look over the case and spot issues and provide strategic advice, even though they are not hired as the primary lawyer in the case. Depending on the case, you may be able to find experts who will provide that advice pro bono; in other cases, you might have to pay them for a few hours’ worth of consulting work. But my sense is that this sort of combination of generalist doing most of the work and an outside expert providing strategic advice is pretty effective.