A drunk driving charge is a serious matter. Don't hire the first lawyer that you talk to. Interview at least three lawyers before making a hiring decision, and prepare to see as many as five or six.
Don't hire any attorney until you find one that you are completely comfortable with.
ASK INTELLIGENT QUESTIONS
The most important thing about a DUI / DWI charge is to keep it off your record. Ask the lawyers you interview to explain to you how they would try to keep the case off your record. If they can't tell you any strategies, you probably better move on to the next lawyer.
Ask how many DUI / DWI cases they have defended. Prosecuting DWIs is not the same as defending them. Ask how many DWI cases they have won for their defendants. Ask them to tell you four or five different ways that they have won DWI cases for their clients. Ask them what percentage of their practice is dedicated to DWI defense. Ask them to tell you about the OTHER lawyers who you have interviewed, or intend to interview. You should pick up some very valuable information by asking these questions.
DEMAND CLEAR ANSWERS TO YOUR QUESTIONS
If you can't understand what a lawyer is talking about, and you know the facts of your case, do you really think a juror will understand that lawyer any better? Trying a case is like telling a story. If the lawyer can't make the jurors understand them, it is highly unlikely that the jurors will agree with them at the end of the case. The ability to communicate clearly is definitely an important factor in hiring an attorney!
GET IT IN WRITING
Get an employment contract in writing. Make sure you know exactly what it is going to cost you to have a fully contested jury trial on your case. The last thing you want to happen is for the lawyer to tell you at the last second that it is going to cost you an additional $5,000 or $10,000 to take your case to trial. Get it all written down from the beginning. When the lawyer quotes you a fee, make sure that the fee covers everything, including a jury trial, and that there are no other contingencies.
One of my pet peeves are lawyers who tell clients that they'll "handle" the client's case for, say, $4,500, and then after being paid that much, the lawyers say "Thank you very much. Now that'll be another $7,500 to go to trial." That's completely unethical, and I've seen it happen!
LEARN YOUR MARKET
In any large metropolitan area, there will probably be at least ten or fifteen elite level DWI defense lawyers. In smaller communities, there may be only two or three, or maybe none at all. Money isn't everything, but figure out what a reasonable fee is in your community. I've been defending DWI cases for over 20 years, and I have won hundreds of them. And I can't see any reason to pay any more than $10,000 to a lawyer to defend you on a simple, first offense DWI. I've seen excellent attorneys successfully defend a simple DWI for $3,500 to $5,000.
If one lawyer is quoting you a substantially higher fee, have them explain to your satisfaction why they would charge you more than anyone else. If they claim that they are better than everyone else, challenge them to prove it to you. If they can prove it, they might be worth it!
LEARN TO RECOGNIZE BALONEY WHEN YOU SEE IT
Experience, past results, and good communication skills are some excellent reasons to hire one attorney over another. But some reasons are complete baloney. Here's a few of them:
"I know the judge." Judges are professionals and they like their jobs. They aren't going to risk their careers for you or your lawyer.
"I know the prosecutor." See above.
"I have connections." Same.
"I used to be a judge" or "I used to be a prosecutor." Big deal. Find out how many cases they have won for the defendants they have represented. That's what counts!
"I can guarantee that your case will be dismissed." Run as fast as you can! This statement is highly unethical, and virtually impossible to know in a contested case. And all DWI cases are hotly contested.
"I have won every case I've ever handled." Either the lawyer is lying, has handled only 3 or 4 cases, or only goes to trial when the facts are overwhelmingly in the defense's favor. None of these are good for you.
KEEP YOURSELF INFORMED
You don't need to know every detail about your case, but you should have a general idea of what is happening with your case at all times. If something doesn't make sense to you, get an explanation from your lawyer. If you can't get an answer that makes sense, consider getting a second opinion.
This case is important to you! If there is ever a time where you feel confused, get your questions answered!
DON'T GIVE UP WITHOUT A FIGHT!
This is one of the most important points in defending any DWI case. Virtually every DWI case is potentially winnable. One of the worst mistakes you can ever make is to plead guilty to your case before you have fully investigated it.
Find a lawyer who indicates to you that he wants to fight your case. The best lawyer in the world can't get a not guilty verdict on a guilty plea. A rookie lawyer right out of law school might win your case if you plead not guilty.
Don't simply hire the most expensive lawyer you can find - find the BEST lawyer you can afford! If you can't afford the best, try to find the hungriest lawyer - the new kid who is trying to make a name for themselves.
NEVER BE AFRAID TO GET A SECOND OPINION
As I've said repeatedly, this case is extremely important to you! This is your life! Any time that you are in doubt, contact your lawyer. If your lawyer doesn't give you a satisfactory answer to your questions, get a second opinion!
The one time I would strongly suggest getting a second opinion is if your lawyer suggests that you shouldn't contest your case, or that you have no chance to win. Any DWI case is potentially winnable, and guilty pleas should be entered only as a last resort, and then, only if you are getting something of a bargain. A plea bargain is no bargain if you don't get anything back in exchange for your plea!
Best wishes for a successful outcome to your case!
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