Choosing a DUI or Criminal Attorney
A simple guide to helping you figure out who can best serve you.
What are your charges?Just like any other professional field, most lawyers confine their practices to a few general areas. Small town or "country lawyers" sometimes have to be a "Jack of all Trades," but in the larger metro areas most are not. Within the realm of criminal defense attorneys, there are some sub-specialties as well. Some criminal defense lawyers gear their practice more towards Federal Court, others to general criminal defense, and then there's the DUI specialist. It is, in fact, a sub specialty. Sadly, since many DUI cases are made in Municipal Courts, many lawyers who do not specialize in DUI will still take your case and your money, and go to court with you. Often they do not know the issues to look for to mount a defense for you. They can often spot very obvious general legal issues such as those of probable cause, search and seizure, and the like, but DUI laws are very complex and require an attorney who is dedicated to learning them, and staying current on the constantly changing issues and laws. Likewise, Federal Court is a very different animal from state or local courts. You want an attorney who knows how it works, and has experience navigating the process there. You need an attorney with experience handling cases like yours. All criminal cases are not the same, nor are the attorneys that handle them.
How do I decide on an attorney?In today's world, one of the best ways to find an attorney that handles your type of case is an online search. Lawyers will set up their websites to showcase the areas of practice they do most, and do best. You can look at a lawyer's website and tell the kind of clients he's looking to draw in. If it doesn't look like you fit that category, you probably don't. If you have a DUI charge, and he lists it way down his lists of "areas of practice" after divorce, probate, and several others, then he's probably not a DUI specialist. On the other hand, if his entire website is devoted to DUI defense, with blogs about DUI law, he likely devotes his time to defending DUI clients, and staying educated on DUI defense. If it's a firm with multiple lawyers, then the firm may list multiple practice areas. If one of them is DUI, then look for the attorney(s) in that firm that devote their practice to DUI. If you were looking at my firm's site you'd see several areas of practice, but when you look at my bio, you'd see my dedication to DUI practice. You can then look around the site and the internet to find out his level of experience. Some older attorneys don't have websites. They rely on word of mouth referrals. You need to simply make sure you trust the person that refers you, and ask around. One of the greatest sources of information about lawyers is another lawyer. Ask one you know that does not handle your type of case. He or she will likely know the names of a couple of attorneys with solid reputations in handling cases like yours. The best advice I can give you is once you locate some names set up appointments to see three or four. Any more than that and you'll likely get confused, and not know what to do. Confirm face to face that they meet your criteria and handle your type case, in the court where you have to appear. Then, it's simply a matter of finding one you're personally comfortable with, and can afford.
Fees.How much does it cost? Great question! Fees for lawyers that handle your type of case can vary greatly. They each evaluate differently, handle cases differently, and they charge according to many criteria. These criteria may include, but are not limited to: their experience, the complexity of your case, your prior criminal history, the particular court where your case is set or may end up, your goals and wishes, your ability to pay, and many other potential issues. Each case is unique, as is each client, and each attorney. There is no right or wrong fee. The "cheap fee" you pay to a lawyer that doesn't do anything, or that doesn't make you happy is too much. The exorbitantly high fee you paid that saves you from jail, losing your license and a lifetime saddled with a debilitating conviction is worth every penny. Now you've taken the steps necessary to find competent counsel, and you want to retain him or her. You should have an attorney that you've vetted for experience, and that you're personally comfortable with. They are retained when you pay their quoted fee unless specifically agreed upon otherwise. Lawyers don't work on the promise of payment. Once we inform the court that we are representing a client, the court moves along with the matter, and we are in it. So, we don't get involved until payment is made, usually payment in full prior to entering a notice of appearance.
Conclusion.Choosing an attorney is not a scientific process. Be thorough but don't over think it. Do your research, but do it quickly enough to find an attorney well before it's the eve of court. Delays in seeking counsel rarely work to your benefit. Remember too, you brought a problem to the attorney, he didn't create it for you. He or she is there to help solve it. Your attorney is on your side.
One last caveat: Many people are told by police, the court on their initial appearance, or a friend "you don't need a lawyer, you can do the deferred prosecution." This may well be true. You may qualify. The court will hand you a bundle of paperwork, let you fill it out, and apply. They'll smile and congratulate you as they "allow you" to enter the program. In many cases you'll then enter a "conditional guilty plea." This can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In Alabama for instance, a guilty plea is only the first step in adjudication of your case. Until you're sentenced, you're not technically adjudicated guilty. The guilty plea is the "hammer hanging over your head" or the "carrot on the stick." One screw up in the program, and all they have to do is sentence you. In other jurisdictions, being granted a dismissal through a deferred prosecution can still result in enhanced punishment if you're ever charged with DUI in the future. Even when entering a deferred prosecution or adjudication program, you should still seek counsel. They can advise you of the potential pitfalls and consequences. I get many calls from people who entered such programs without aid of an attorney and either can't complete them, or are about to be kicked out and sentenced because of failed drug test or new charges, and don't know what is going to happen next. What happens next can be very bad. Deferrals can be a great deal, but they are not free of risks or consequences. Many lawyers will adjust their fee down if they know their client qualifies, wants to enter such a program, and the jurisdiction has such a program available.