I can't count the number of cases where I get calls from parents/spouses/significant-others who ask me to take on a case later into the game -- some as soon as a few days before a trial.
In some of these cases, I can help. I have had a lot of success defending people
Other times, I simply can not help the person. This can be for a wide variety of reasons, ranging from scheduling to not having enough time to properly investigate or prepare the case.
As I often tell people, it's important to get the trial attorney who will handle your negotiations or trial on board as soon as possible -- sometimes as early as before the person surrenders himself/herself to law enforcement. This way, the attorney has input and a grasp on the case during its entirety -- not just at the end.
One of the key reasons I like to get involved in a case right away is to make sure it is properly investigated right away. This way, if evidence needs to get gathered or witnesses need to be spoken to right away, I or someone in my office can do so quickly.
For example, many people think police automatically look for surveillance video when investigating a crime. While this is usually true for higher-level offenses (i.e. murder, rape, kidnapping), it is not always true for lower-level offenses.
Additionally, many people also think that surveillance video is automatically saved after a crime. This is also not always true.
If the cameras and recording systems were operating, the timeframe for video being able to be recovered can be anywhere from 24-hours to 30 days -- unless someone calls or subpoenas the information right away. Then, whoever has the video, such as a store or apartment complex, can retrieve and preserve the evidence.
The other concern is that there are motions, such as Motions to Suppress, that need to be filed within a reasonable amount of time at the beginning of the case.
The final major concern is that some judges will not reset cases for trial if a new attorney is hired. Those judges may say "you knew the trial date -- see you in court."
In those cases, it may require the attorney rushing to prepare for trial -- which risks issues or facts being overlooked due to the time crunch.
Even in the cases where the judge approves the continuance, this can mean that the client sits in jail for several additional weeks/months before proceeding to trial.
While each cases is different, as a general rule, I prefer to get cases to trial as soon as possible. While there are reasons for delays in getting a case to trial -- such as needing additional evidence or scientific testing -- it is usually in everyone's best interests that the case proceed to a trial or plea as soon as possible.
Even in cases where a plea is the ultimate goal, it is usually better that I get involved as soon as possible. In many cases, the ultimate plea resolution is determined by the initial conversations that take place at the very beginning of the case.
I have had a number of cases where I entered late that have begun with "your client's prior attorney [fill in the blank]." Usually the terms used to describe the prior lawyer and his client are not flattering, nor do they set the case on the right trajectory. In many of those cases, the attorney's initial conduct is what set a negative tone in the prosecutor's or judge's minds -- and while the client may not have anything to do with the conduct, it is ultimately the client who pays the price.
Additionally, in some cases, we are able to approach prosecutors with a Bill of Information, which is where a defendant and the prosecutor agree to the charges and bypass the Grand Jury. In these cases, the defendant accepts responsibility early on, which often times can eventually help him/her at the time of sentencing.
While there are a number of other reasons, these are many of the reasons why I encourage people to find their trial attorney as soon as possible.