How to Handle the Criminal/Traffic Case

Vol. 3, No. 10

Kenneth Vercammen is an Edison, Middlesex County, New Jersey, trial attorney. He is the author of the ABA GPSolo Division Book Criminal Law Forms, available from ABA Publishing. (Please see below for ordering information.) Mr. Vercammen has published 125 articles in national publications on criminal, traffic, DWI, probate, estate planning, and litigation topics. He often lectures to trial lawyers of the American Bar Association, New Jersey State Bar Association, and Middlesex County Bar Association. Kenneth Vercammen was the New Jersey State Bar Municipal Court Attorney of the Year and past president of the Middlesex County Municipal Prosecutor’s Association. He is the past chair of the New Jersey State Bar Association Municipal Court Section and is the co-chair of the ABA Criminal Law Committee of the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division. He serves as the editor of the popular legal websites and Kenneth Vercammen was included in the 2014 “Super Lawyers” list published by Thomson Reuters.


From Criminal Law Forms


Getting Known to Potential Clients

Prior to the invention of the Internet, potential clients came to your office by three primary ways—prior clients who referred their friends, current clients who got caught again, and the Yellow Pages. The Internet has replaced the Yellow Pages.

While walking out of the courtroom, we give every client a yellow “Fish Card,” which provides the following information:


Advice on Arrest for a Criminal Violation
1. Tell the police officer or detective that you wish to talk to your lawyer. Repeat this request to every officer who speaks to you.
2. Identify yourself, if asked. If the incident is related to a motor vehicle, produce your license, registration, and insurance card.
3. Beyond identifying yourself, give no other information. Answer NO to other questions. SIGN NOTHING. If you are asked any other questions, reply politely, “I would rather not discuss it.”
4. Call your lawyer at the first opportunity.
NOTE: If you are arrested for drunk driving in New Jersey, you must give breath samples before you call your lawyer.
Remember: Even a fish would not get caught if it kept its mouth closed.
OJ remained silent and went out playing golf the next day.

Often the attorney is sitting with the client at initial interview, and the client explains what he or she said to police—a confession. The client then tries to say the arrest is illegal because he or she was not read the Miranda warnings. We explain that an arresting officer’s failure to read Miranda does not void an arrest: it just keeps out what was said after the arrest. I then give the person the yellow Fish Card and tell him next time to say nothing.

After appearing in traffic court, I walk the client to the violations window to pay the fine. I explain how much we saved him by getting the tickets dismissed. Then I give clients the Fish Cards and say, “Call me when you get your next one.” They say there will not be a next one. I say, “You weren’t planning on a first one either, but we’re both here.” We always ask new clients how they were referred. Occasionally someone has one of our yellow Fish Cards.


General Telephone Calls to the Law Office

You should not provide legal advice over the telephone. Callers will not hire you. Instead, they will use your advice to negotiate on their own. Our office does, however, often advise potential clients of some of the mandatory penalties and jail terms that the court could impose. This makes people realize the seriousness of the charge. Our office schedules a consultation and directs them to bring in a copy of the complaint, all their papers in connection with their case, accident report, and any documents they received from the Motor Vehicle Commission. Oftentimes our office instructs them to write a confidential narrative if it is a case that is fact-specific or involves a great deal of detail, such as an assault case.


Answering the Phone to Determine if Current Client, Potential Client, or Insane Person

Phones should be answered by the second ring.

1. Answer the phone—“Welcome to __________’s Law Office. How can I help you?”

2. Ask caller: “What file is this regarding? Who is our client? How can we help you?”

Write down everything they say.

If the caller does not want to discuss what the matter was in reference to, and there is another office attorney available, have him or her speak with the caller. Otherwise, take a detailed message and advise the caller that someone will call him or her back.


Never, ever say “Managing attorney is too busy to talk or schedule appointment.” Say “He is in court at ______” or “He is working on a brief that must be filed in the Superior Court today.”

Potential new clients should be asked:

1. Who referred them to our office (e.g., prior client, another attorney, Google, YouTube, newspaper advertisement, union, etc.). If they give you a person’s name, ask them if this person is a prior client or an attorney. Advise them that we like to send a “thank you for referral” letter.

2. The type of matter they are calling about, e.g., criminal, traffic, car accident, probate, personal injury, etc. Use letter-size scrap paper to write down this information.

For all new and/or potential clients, a referral source is required, especially if the referral is from a prior client. Write down the name of the prior client: e.g., JOHN DOE prior client, JANE DOE, Esq. If they give a name, ask if that is a prior client, an attorney, or how they know us. You can send a thank you letter for the referral.


Scheduling Appointments for Criminal/Traffic Ticket/Municipal Court Potential Client Callers

To schedule appointments, have the appointment calendar in front of you to see what days and times the Managing Attorney has available. When a section is blocked, this means that no appointments should be scheduled for those times.

All appointments scheduled must also be marked in the Appointment Calendar. Enter the first and last name of client or potential client. Please put your initials next to the appointment you are scheduling and the type of matter they are coming to the office for—e.g., Mary Doe, DWI.

If your law office uses a computer for appointments, add to your calendar immediately. You should try to schedule appointments on the hour—10:00, 11:00, etc. However, if client requests an appointment on the half hour—say, 10:30—then it can be scheduled. The latest appointment to be scheduled for the Managing Attorney is 5 p.m. (4:45 on Fridays). For clients who specifically need a late-night appointment, check the appointment calendar to see when the Managing Attorney has an evening court appointment and schedule it to be held in the night court reception area. Do not schedule Saturday appointments. The Managing Attorney has law seminars and running events.

1. If Criminal/Municipal Court–related Appointment, use the Criminal/Traffic Ticket Intake Callers Form and do not write up a separate telephone message [Form 1]. Try to get them in the same day. Don’t ask, “When is it convenient?” Instead tell them, “We have an available appointment today at ____. If not, how about tomorrow at 10:30 a.m.?” Try to sell the office and how you can help them. Clients should also be instructed to bring all paperwork and information connected to their matter to the office at the time of their appointment.

Complete addresses to the office should be provided, since sometimes online sites have old or incorrect addresses. If a client has email access, email the directions.

2. Email, fax, or mail them an appointment letter. After you get their email or fax number, advise them that we will fax directions. If they do not have a fax and there is not enough time to send them an appointment letter, tell them that directions to the Edison office are also on our website. They should fill out the Criminal/Traffic Interview Form [Form 1] and bring it to their appointment.

When sending the email, be sure to send the interview form both as an attachment and in the body of the text. If they do not have an email address, get their fax number. Fax them the Criminal/Traffic Appointment letter and Municipal Court Interview Form. There is no need for a separate fax cover sheet. Write the person’s fax number next to his or her name on the appointment letter.

If they do not have a fax number and the appointment is more than three days away, get their address. Mail them the Criminal/Traffic Appointment letter, Municipal Court Interview Form. On the caller form write “faxed appointment letter” or “mailed appointment letter” or “did not send appointment letter.” Also, tell them that directions can be found on your website. If you confirm this appointment by fax or writing, you will get fewer “no-shows.” There is no need to make a copy of the mailed letter. Just mark the Criminal/Traffic/Intake Form “Questionnaire emailed, faxed, or mailed,” and the date.

Careless Drivers: If someone indicates they were in an accident, schedule an appointment, but also recommend they try to obtain the police report and any tickets.


Current Clients Who Come In with Appointment to Discuss Their Pending Cases or Welcomed Visitors

Inform the Managing Attorney that the client or person has arrived, and write the client’s name, date, and time of appointment on full-size scrap paper. Give the Managing Attorney something in writing for every prior and potential client so he or she does not forget that someone is waiting.

If the Managing Attorney is on the phone, tell him by writing client’s name on full-size scrap paper at top.


Appointment Letter (Municipal Court/Superior Court Traffic/Criminal Cases) [Form 3]

Criminal and Traffic Appointment E-mail [Form 3]

Thank you for scheduling a consultation to discuss your municipal court matter. Please print and complete the attached Criminal and Traffic Interview Form prior to your appointment, which is scheduled for __________________.

Everything you tell us is confidential. Under the New Jersey Court Rules, an attorney can negotiate with the municipal court prosecutor to attempt to reduce points, obtain dismissal of some tickets, and avoid some suspension or jail. By reducing points and penalties, you can minimize increases in your car insurance and surcharges.

You should bring:

1. Copies of the actual complaint or tickets. We need the actual complaint/tickets since they have the police officer’s badge number, time and specific location of offense, and signature line. A computer printout is not enough for the attorney to provide advice. If you cannot locate your copy of the complaint or tickets, these are available at the court, since all complaints are a matter of public record under Court Rule 1:38. Call the court to request a photocopy of the complaint, not a computer printout.

2. Any hearing notice from the court.

3. If there was an accident, the accident report.

4. Police reports in criminal cases, if available, so you can see what police wrote about you. (Note: Many police departments will not provide reports to you. They will provide them only to an attorney you retained.)

5. Any notices or papers from MVC/DMV.

6. Every other paper you have in connection with your case.

Our clients can now pay fees by check, Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discovery, cash, or money order. Once we are retained, we will prepare a letter of representation to the court, prosecutor, and you. We typically request payment at the interview and do not provide payment plans.

We have many requests for appointments, and our schedule is very full. Therefore, we ask that you make every effort to keep your appointment. If you are unable to make your appointment, please notify us in advance. Once retained, we will represent your interests vigorously. If you have any questions, please call us immediately.

Please be on time.


What to Do After Appointments Are Scheduled

All appointments scheduled must have an unopened file folder, and these procedures should be followed:

1. Create an unopened file folder. Use a large yellow Post It note sticker and write the last name only, unless it is a common last name—e.g., Smith, Patel, etc., then include first name and the town or adversary, and on the second line, write the offense/matter, e.g., Mary Smith, Edison, DWI.

2. Write it horizontal (left to right) so it is visible when the file is closed.

3. If the appointment is for the same day and not on the Managing Attorney’s scheduled copy, then put the yellow Post It Note sticker on the outside, e.g., Today, March 1, 4:30.

Our office will not accept personal checks if a court date is within 48 hours.

If people call ahead to advise they are coming in to pay and their court date is within 48 hours, tell them you need a money order or cash. If they just show up, ask if their check will be good. Take the check, then call the bank to confirm the check will clear.


Can’t Come In—Traffic/Criminal

If they can’t or don’t want to come in, write down their information on the Criminal/Traffic Ticket Intake Callers Form. Get their email address and email them the Municipal Court Questionnaire. Ask what questions they have and write them down on the Municipal Court intake form. Advise them that someone will call them back. Write on form “Person does not want to make appointment!” Call back and try to get credit card number over the phone. If criminal, advise that they must come in with a legible copy of all complaints. The complaint contains the police officer badge number and other important details.

Don’t fill out a separate telephone message form.

If they live out of the area, schedule a telephone consult. In traffic matters, recommend that potential clients email or fax over tickets, hearing notice, and other relevant documents. If someone lives out of state in speeding ticket cases, prepare a Defense by Affidavit and appear on their behalf.

With a Defense by Affidavit, they will not have to appear. These potential clients should email or fax over their tickets ASAP, and consult can be over the phone for tickets. You will not have to make copies when they arrive.


Prior Client Calls

1. Look on Complete Client List or on computer. Write down the file number after you write “prior client” and pull old file. If potential client is a spouse or close family member, write down prior client file number and pull the file.

2. Pull out old file. If destroyed, write “Destroyed.” (These are files more than eight years old.) Set up an unopened folder if file is destroyed.

3. In your calendar, write “open file,” so your staff is not looking in the Unopened File Folder.


Attorney Talking with Potential Clients Over the Phone—Additional Information

1. Fill out Criminal/Traffic intake form. Try to schedule an appointment. If they are not in the New Jersey area and it is a traffic ticket that does not require a court appearance, you can interview the client over phone, quote them the fee, and obtain their mailing address.

2. Phone call, but no appointment. If you interview or even speak to someone over the phone but no appointment is scheduled, fill out a telephone intake form and get their email address. Send them an email as a matter of course.

3. Retaining client over the phone—credit card. Tell them to fax or email summonses, court notices, accident reports, and police reports if they have not already done so.

1. Obtain credit card number, expiration, and type of card.

2. If credit card, run through credit card machine.

3. Staple receipt copy to copy of retainer and put in staff bin.

4. Staple client credit card to their retainer and put in staff bin. It is mailed to client with copy of Discovery/Letter of Representation and Criminal/Traffic Retainer.

5. If retained, prepare Letter of Representation/Discovery Letter ASAP.

Prepare short memo to Managing Attorney at bottom of first page of interview sheet. Print your first and last name.


Nonappointment Calls into the Office Handled by Per Diem Attorney

Most callers don’t need to speak with the Managing Attorney. If the Managing Attorney is on another line, ask callers if they wish to hold for a moment. If a person is holding, write on letter-size scrap paper the caller’s full name, the line he is on, and what the call is in regard to, and put it on the Managing Attorney’s desk. If the caller doesn’t want to hold, handwrite a detailed message, including cell number with area code. Repeat the phone number to them for accuracy.

Make sure callers are asked who referred them to our office, the name of the case, and/or the type of matter. Note the date and time of call.

If the call involves criminal and traffic court matters, make sure to obtain the court date (whether it is from a ticket or a court notice), court location, and the charges for which the tickets were issued.

Let the caller know the Managing Attorney will be given the message.

Leave all messages in message holder on front desk.


Cases We Handle

The back of our business card indicates some of the matters we handle. It is best to schedule an appointment; then, if Managing Attorney does not want to handle, he can contact the person by phone. We can try to refer a matter to another attorney.


Cases We Don’t Handle

Don’t schedule an appointment if person is a “nut” or if it concerns a matter you don’t handle.

If you know another attorney who can handle the matter (divorce, bankruptcy, immigration), get the caller’s name, phone number, town, and county where the person lives and where the matter is taking place. Tell the person, “Someone will call back today. Right now the attorney is in court.” A list of names, phone numbers, and fax numbers of referral attorneys should be created.

If Managing Attorney tells staff to do so, staff can quickly find an attorney for the person using the online. Go to Attorney, then Type of Matter, Town, State (limit by two miles to remove out-of-area attorneys). Write down attorney’s name, phone number, and fax number.

After giving the caller the attorney’s name and phone number, fax a referral to the other attorney [Form 4].

If busy, staff can quickly give them the phone number of the lawyer’s referral.

For far-away minor traffic incidents and nuts, recommend they check the Yellow Pages for a lawyer near them.


Prior Clients with Cases We Do Not Handle (e.g., landlord issues, small claims cases under $10,000). Get their phone number and advise that someone will try to call between 10:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. or the next day.

If Managing Attorney is out of office: Say “Mr./Mrs. ___________ is in court now,” and let the caller know what court (or trial, etc.). “I will be glad to take a message.” Take a detailed message following the instructions in No. 3 above. Advise the caller that the Managing Attorney always calls in for messages and the message left will be relayed. Never abandon the caller or have the caller think she must wait indefinitely for a return call. Be pleasant to everyone who calls.

If person says they are returning Managing Attorney’s call: ask which file they are calling about and when Managing Attorney called. Ask if Managing Attorney called directly or someone else in the office called. Ask if they know why Managing Attorney called or if they have any information to relay.

Calls to confirm that faxes were received: If someone wants to confirm that a fax was received, ask for the date the fax was sent, their phone number, and name. Advise that if your office did not receive the fax, you will call them back. Otherwise, they should assume you received it.

If someone calls to confirm a letter: ask for their name, phone number, and the date of the letter. If you did not get it, call them back. Otherwise, they should assume it was received.


Calls to Potential Clients the Day of Their Appointment to Confirm

Sometimes we call a potential client and leave the following message: “This is the Law Office of ____________. We emailed you our interview form. Please fill out and bring to your appointment today with all your papers.”

Do not ask if they received our email. However, if they advise that they did not receive the email, get their correct email and resend. In the message, advise that there is no need for them to call back if they received the email and filled it out, unless you need to reschedule the appointment.


What to Do When Potential Clients Come In for Appointments

When you hear the front door open, open the reception door for the person and look in the Calendar Book for the person’s name. Get up and greet clients as they walk in. “Good afternoon. Are you Mr./Ms. ______?”

Use client’s name in conversation when speaking with them. For example, to get clients to fill out our interview sheets, say, “Mr./Ms. _________, please fill out our confidential interview sheet.” Be pleasant to everyone.

Criminal Law Forms


Order Criminal Law Forms


Did you find this article helpful? Do you think more information like this would help you? More information is available. This material is excerpted from Criminal Law Forms, 2014, by Kenneth Vercammen, published by the American Bar Association Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Diviision. Copyright © 2014 by the American Bar Association. Reprinted with permission of the author. All rights reserved. This information or any or portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. Click here to purchase the book.



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