How to Hire a DUI Attorney
Even a misdemeanor driving while intoxicated or driving under the influence charge can affect your life. Many states now impose mandatory minimum jail sentences and license suspensions for drunk driving offenses; and more on subsequent DUI convictions. Hiring an experienced DUI attorney is critical if conviction means jail time, losing your license, paying a hefty fine, or a black mark on your record. Before hiring a DUI attorney, do your homework; shop around; get referrals; research their credentials; and ask questions. A law license does not guarantee that any attorney can effectively represent you in court or at a motor vehicle license suspension hearing in a drunk driving case. Most attorneys are not experienced in DUI cases or have jury trial experience; they are not right to take on your DUI matter.
First Steps to Hiring a DUI Attorney
Your first step to hiring a DUI attorney is to make a list of potential attorneys that you might want to hire. An easy starting point is the yellow pages in print or online sources such as FreeAdvice’s Free DUI Case Evaluation. Look for attorneys that advertise experience, or specialized training and skill in DUI law or drunk driving cases. This will not mean they are the best candidates or be the right one for you, but it will help you weed out attorneys that don’t touch DUI law.
Although online advertisements or the phone book are good starting points, get personal recommendations of friends or relatives, business contacts or coworkers that have been in legal trouble. Another way is to get a referral from other attorneys.
Major points of inquiry for a referral should include:
- Does the attorney have the knowledge and skill in handling DUI cases?
- Are people satisfied with their services?
- Exhibit ethical conduct?
- Is this a larger, established firm with many lawyers, or a smaller firm, and concentrating only on DUI matters
- Do they have a good working relationship with the prosecuting attorney’s office?
The last question is an important one mainly because you do not want an attorney that will pester a prosecutor into recommendation.
A DUI is embarrassing and it is very serious. If you prefer to make your search for a DUI private, you can use FreeAdvice’s Free DUI Case Evaluation to contact an attorney discretely.
Researching DUI Attorneys
Once you have a list of attorneys that specialize in DUI law that you might want to consider having an initial consultation, do your homework before you waste your time scheduling appointments. Start with your state bar's web site. Almost every state bar association maintains an online list of attorneys licensed in the state and their disciplinary history. Disciplinary history will tell you if they have been in trouble for not representing their clients effectively. It will also tell you if they have a license.
Do not hire an unlicensed attorney. They will not be able to represent you in court.
After you review the state bar website, pop open your favorite search engine and search the attorney. See if any consumer sites post feedback on the DUI attorney’s services. Some DUI attorneys are members of local Better Business Associations. A majority of attorneys have websites, another good source of background information. . If they list their practice as a “general practice” or have a dozen other areas of practice listed, you may want to put them on the bottom of your list. When you have a DUI charge, you shouldn’t gamble with a “jack of all trades” attorney. You need one that understands DUI law in depth.
From this list, you should be able to significantly narrow your options, , prioritize your list of DUI attorneys from best to worst and start working your way down with individual appointments.
Handling an In-Person Consultation with a Potential DUI Attorney
Do not hire a DUI attorney over the phone. An in-person appointment or consultation is the best way to get to know the DUI attorney, and ask questions.. Most DUI attorneys offer free consultations so you can briefly discuss your case with the attorney and the possible ways to handle your case without financial restraints. If your personality is not compatible with the attorney, move on to the next attorney. In a DUI case, the attorney needs to know you and understand you. If you do not feel comfortable telling them about yourself or your drunk driving case, you have crippled the DUI attorney’s ability to represent you effectively. For example, part of any DUI attorney’s argument is that an officer made assumptions because they did not know you. The DUI attorney’s job is to get the jury to know you and that you are not as bad as the officer made you out to be.
During the initial sit down meeting, ask the DUI attorney questions. Ask how they usually deal with field sobriety tests or breath tests. If the attorney has never handled either or worse yet, hasn’t heard of them, they are not a DUI attorney. Many hardcore DUI attorneys will have copies of your state’s Department of Public Safety handbooks for the administration of field sobriety testing. DUI attorneys use these manuals to cross-examine officers on the results of the DUI field and breath tests.
Inquire about how many DUI trials they have done in the last couple of years and the results. Ask what percentage of their practice is based on DUI or drunk driving cases. If the percentage seems low, ask about what other types of cases they handle. If they handle a large volume of criminal cases, this is more positive sign. If they handle divorce, probate, and a plethora of other civil cases, they are not that focused on DUI cases or drunk driving issues. Finally, before making up your mind, inquire whether the attorney you are interviewing will be the one involved in your matter or will several other members of the firm be responsible. You will want to develop a personal working relationship with someone who will handle your case.
Wrapping Up Your Consultation with a DUI Attorney
You will also want to discuss rates or charges for the DUI attorney. A senior member of the law firm who does your work will be more expensive, but may have extensive behind-the-scenes resources. Ask about the rates for a plea bargain and a trial. Whatever fee arrangement is ironed out, get it in writing at the beginning.
Before leaving the first interview, you should also ask the DUI attorney if they have ever handled any cases involving the same officer that arrested you. They may have specific knowledge of any issues the officer has had in the past, which could help your drunk driving case.
Final Tips on Hiring a DUI Attorney
You have compiled, segregated, and done an initial background screen on several lawyers. Meet with each to discuss your case. Do not hire the first attorney you meet. You need to compare answers, qualifications, rates, and your comfort level with all of the DUI attorneys you interviewed. Although the input of friends and family is important, don’t make a decision about the lawyer because on the recommendation. Keep in mind that you are putting your driver’s license (and perhaps your professional license) and freedom in the hands of the DUI attorney you hire. Analyze answers to your questions, rates, track record, etc., then decide who you think will be the best DUI attorney for your drunk driving case. You can get started immediately looking for the right attorney for you by completing the Free DUI Case Evaluation form below.