“Buyer Beware” – Things To Consider When Choosing A DUI Attorney
When arrested for DUI, you have a number of things to worry about – how are you going to deal with the consequences at work? When/how to tell your family? Should you plead guilty or try and fight the charge? How much will an attorney cost? Most importantly, the toughest question you will face is likely “Which attorney do I hire?”. After all, all lawyers are the same…right? Not exactly.
While all attorneys (with an active bar license) are capable of representing you, the law is extremely complex and it is just too difficult for any one lawyer to know and understand every area of law, and be good at it. That’s why so many lawyers focus on one, or a few, areas – for example, Immigration, Criminal, Family, Personal Injury, etc. Even within those fields, there are a number of sub-categories that a lawyer can focus on. For example, within the Criminal Defense field, a lawyer can limit his/her practice to: DUI, Domestic Violence, Murder cases, Drug cases, sexual assault cases, Death Penalty cases, etc. Because of this, the less “variety” in the law a lawyer has to keep up with, the better that lawyer will understand the area of law he or she does practice in.
Overall, you should attempt to do four (4) things when choosing an attorney:
- Hire the best DUI attorney you can afford.
- Hire a DUI attorney who will devote the necessary time to your case.
- Hire a DUI attorney you feel comfortable with.
- Consider Potential Red Flags.
Hiring the best DUI attorney you can afford doesn’t mean you go out and hire the most expensive attorney you can find. It means you hire the one you feel comfortable with, and you feel has the experience necessary for your case, and you can find a way to retain his or her services for your case – even if only with a payment plan. Don’t just settle for the “cheapest” attorney simply based on price alone. DUI attorney fees vary widely, and depend on a number of factors, including:
- The DUI attorney’s reputation (with Judges and DA’s), experience, and whether they focus on DUI defense or handle a variety of different types of cases.
- The details of your case (BAC level, prior convictions, reason for the contact by the officer, chemical test refusal, severity, etc.).
- The number of cases the DUI attorney typically has pending at any given moment, otherwise known as the attorney’s “Case Load”.
- The amount of time which the DUI attorney (not a paralegal or clerk) believes will be spent, or is typically spent, reviewing, investigating, and analyzing the case. This is extremely important because any DUI attorney worth his fee will perform his or her own investigation of the case – seeking additional information regarding the calibration/maintenance of any breath machines used, blood analysis records, the existence of any potential video/audio that may help your case, etc.
- Whether the DUI attorney you meet with will personally handle any appearances (Court and DMV), or if it will be a “Junior” attorney. For DMV hearings, another thing to consider is whether the appearance will be by phone, or in-person.
- How many court appearances the DUI attorney expects to make before case resolution (or trial).
- Any costs that are covered by the DUI attorney’s fee (investigative expenses for discovering additional evidence, expert witness fees, blood sample re-analysis, cost to subpoena officer at DMV hearing, transcripts, etc).
In general, the more of these items the DUI attorney has in his or her favor, the higher the fee will be. But you should still be wary of attorneys who may charge what seems like an outrageous fee (by comparison to other attorneys). The best way to get this information and make an informed decision based on this information, is to contact a few attorneys you are interested and ask for this information directly. An attorney should not be afraid to explain what their fee includes, and what representation by their office means for you.
How a DUI attorney prepares the case for Court and the DMV directly relates to the kind of credibility the DUI Attorney has with the DMV Hearing Officers, the DA’s, and Judges. You should look for an attorney who will devote the necessary time to your case.
Knowing what the DUI attorney’s case load is like will give you a strong indication of how much attention your case will receive. Some attorneys, advertise that they are “in Court every single day”. Some advertise that they have staff dedicated to certain parts of a case, such as an “In-house DMV Hearing Attorney Expert who handles all DMV hearings for the firm” or a “Discovery Attorney” who handles all of the investigation. Other firms advertise that your case is assigned to one attorney, and that attorney handles everything about your case. You need to decide what level of attention you want, and hire an attorney who will provide that. Each of these has specific advantages and disadvantages, such as:
- “In Court Every Single Day”: Sure, the attorney may be in Court every single day building a potentially great relationship with the DA, but who laying the groundwork and preparing your case for Court? A paralegal? A clerk?
- “In-House Expert For (insert a portion of the case here)”: Having someone whose only job is to focus on one area of your case can be great. However, who do you contact when you have questions? What if you have multiple questions about your case, but they are unrelated to each other (such as, Court process v. DMV process)? Would you have to play phone tag with two people to get your answer?
- Case Assignment To One Attorney: You have one Attorney to contact with any questions about your case and that will be the only person you discuss your case with. However, they might be more difficult to reach because of the attention they do provide to the case.
Generally speaking, the more work a DUI attorney does on the case themselves, the lower their active case load will be. Obviously, they only have a limited number of hours to give each day, so they can’t spread themselves too thin with too many active cases. There is no standard magic number for an “acceptable case load”. It varies depending on the severity and complexity of each active case.
Finally, your comfort level is just as important a factor as anything else. This DUI attorney will be guiding you through the process and making recommendations that will affect you and potentially your loved ones. You need to feel like those recommendations are in your best interest. Part of building this comfort is understanding exactly what you are paying for. Make sure that you know exactly what the attorney’s fee includes, and that it is spelled out in the fee agreement.
Do not hire a DUI attorney based on price alone! If you consult with several attorneys, and one seems to have unusually low fees, make sure to ask questions regarding what the fee includes and the extent of their experience. And make sure what you are told is included with the fee, is explicitly included in any Fee Agreement you sign with that attorney. Sometimes, these attorneys may charge a lower fee in order to “get the experience” or some other reason. While it may not be the case, the attorney may also seek to simply resolve the case after one or two hearings, without performing an extensive investigation of the case. You simply must protect yourself. After all, this is your life and your license at stake.
Finally, there are certain things that you should be wary of that should make you want to seek more information about an attorney (their experience or reputation) before retaining their services. Some of these may include:
- Making promises to get the charges reduced/dismissed, or for a specific outcome. Much of how a DUI defense case ends up depends largely on the preparation by the Attorney and investigation they perform. Making promises before any of that is done is simply illogical and unethical. While an experienced attorney may be able to give you an idea of a potential resolution, no attorney can promise a specific outcome. If the attorney you intend to hire promises a specific outcome, request that it be in writing. Most likely, they will refuse.
- Unusually low fees. If, after consulting with several attorneys, you come across one that seems to charging unusually low fees, ask yourself why that may be. Additionally, ask yourself if that seems sufficient to cover court the necessary court appearances, investigative expenses, etc., given the complexity of your case.
- Unusually high fees. The same can be said for an attorney who charges unusually high fees. Don’t simply assume they must be the best simply because they charge the most. You should approach this situation just like any other and determine whether the fee can be justified according to the seven (7) factors mentioned earlier.
As a DUI attorney, I pride myself in doing the absolute best that I can for my clients. This doesn’t just mean in Court or before the DMV, but also in my accessibility to be reached and effectiveness of my communication. If you need highly qualified DUI Defense, I invite you to contact me today to schedule a free consultation, with no obligation to retain my services.