Written by attorney Luke Joseph Nichols

How to Spot a Bad DUI/DWI Attorney and What to Look for in a Good One

In order to know what to look for in an attorney, it is helpful to know what to avoid. You do not want to discover on the day of your trial that you hired a dud.

Bad Contract Equals Bad Lawyer

The attorney you hire is only as good as the contract you sign, which will spell out what the attorney will and will not do for you. Most attorneys stop representing you as soon as you walk out the courtroom doors.

The pre trial and post trial requirements can be complicated and carry severe consequence if not satisfied strictly.Make sure the attorney you hire will walk you through these very complicated processes and find out whether they will take your case to appeal if needed. Many drivers who end up navigating the post-trial process without an attorney end up getting re-arrested because they did not have an attorney to help them register for the right classes or because they did not fill out their restricted license properly or they messed up their ignition interlock systems.

Remember, it does not matter how good an attorney is if the contract does not require her to help you.

Experience (Quality, Not Quantity)

Many bad attorneys have been doing a terrible job for many years. Be skeptical of any attorney who uses the number of years she has been practicing as her biggest selling point. When it comes to experience, it is quality, not quantity, that matters.

Jack-of-All-Trades, Master of None

Many attorneys are what we call “general practitioners." They do divorces, lawsuits, wills, criminal defenses, adoptions and whatever else pays the bills. Most general practitioners love to take DUI and other traffic cases because they think these cases are easy money: show up to court, plead guilty, and take home a big chunk of change.

Do not be fooled. DUIs, Reckless Driving, and other traffic cases are extremely complicated because sheer volume of relevant statutes and because unlike most criminal cases there is a lot of highly technical forensic science involved in measuring sobriety and speed. Make sure that whomever you hire is a DUI attorney and not just an attorney who sometimes handles DUI cases. Find out what percentage of the attorney’s practice is dedicated to criminal defense and what percentage of that practice is spent on DUI cases.

Bait and Switch

Law firms have big partners who draw in the clients, and they have disposable associates who do the work. Make sure you know who is going to do your work, not who is going to supervise them. Many clients pay big bucks to an attorney who just outsources her case to an associate. Interview all people who will be doing work on your case before signing any contract.

Too Busy or Too Lazy

Most of the mistakes made by criminal defense attorneys happen because those attorneys are too busy or too lazy, not because they are inexperienced or incompetent. Your attorney needs to have all the facts about the case and understand how the various consequences of a DUI will affect you. There is no substitute for spending time talking with your attorney. If you do not feel like you have had enough time to talk, get another attorney.

Busy attorneys also tend to forget their place. An attorney is a counselor, not the client’s babysitter. The attorney’s job is to explain the options and consequences to the client and thus empower the client to make informed decisions. An attorney that is too busy or lazy does not have the time to communicate. Instead, the attorney wants to make all the decisions and have the client just come along for the ride. This situation is a formula for disaster: if your attorney wants to make decisions for you, get another attorney.

Because most of a DUI trial happens outside the courtroom, most of what an attorney does is done without anyone looking over her shoulder. If an attorney is too busy, there are plenty of places to cut corners without a client’s knowledge. If you suspect that your attorney is a bit too busy, things are probably much worse than you realize. You should get another attorney.

The Lawyer Does Not Care

The second biggest complaint I hear from defendants is that their attorney does not care. Criminal defense can be a very emotionally demanding profession, and many attorneys have become extremely callused and jaded. They just stop caring.

Attorneys can lose touch with how important their job is. They have seen so many people go to jail that they may not fight as hard as they should, or they may not be as sensitive to their client’s situation as they should. If you feel your attorney is not concerned enough about your problems, do not wait another day to hire another attorney. You need an attorney you know is going to fight for you 100%.

Lawyer Is Not Detail Oriented

When it comes to criminal defense, the devil is in the details. While most of the mistakes attorneys make come from being busy, the second biggest screw-ups come from not paying attention to details.

I saw this first hand as a new attorney when I watched a driver go to jail for five days simply because his defense attorney did not notice a typo on the plea agreement. As the bailiff dragged the confused and terrified man to jail, the judge told the attorney that she should have read the agreement more carefully. You do not want this to happen to you!

I am a firm believer that how attorneys take care of themselves and their offices says a lot about how they take care of their clients. If your attorney dresses sloppily and works with piles of files everywhere, be warned!

Discount Attorneys Are Very Expensive

Hire the best attorney you can afford. Cheap attorneys need to serve more clients to make money. Serving more clients means that they are busier and have less time to dedicate to your case.

Also, cheap attorneys are usually cheap for reason, and, in the end, they cost more. Hiring an attorney whose biggest strength is her cost usually does not end well.

Bad Lawyers Are Too Passive or Too Aggressive

Before you go to trial, your attorney will have a chance to talk the prosecution into giving you everything you want. Most DUI cases are resolved between the DUI attorney and the prosecution without ever going to trial. Unlike trial, negotiations with the prosecutor are all about people-skills.

Bad attorneys are often either too passive or too aggressive. Passive attorneys give up too easily and just want to avoid going to trial. On the other hand, aggressive attorneys make enemies out of the people who will be deciding your future. Judges and prosecutors have long memories. If your attorney prides himself on cheap tricks and ruffled feathers, the odds are that you are the one who is going to pay for it.

The best attorneys are friendly, confident, and assertive. They can demand respect while treating others respectfully. If an attorney bad-mouths the judges and prosecutors, odds are that the judges and prosecution are bad-mouthing the attorney. You do not want to be the client of the attorney everyone hates.

Don’t Trust the Unethical Lawyer

Every jurisdiction has that one attorney who markets herself as the attorney who will do anything to “get it done." The courts have long memories, and a lawyer who is not trusted is worthless to you. What is the point of hiring a person no one trusts to convince the court that you are innocent?

Additionally, When attorneys start breaking the rules of professional conduct, the most people being cheated are usually their clients not the prosecutors.

14 Things to Look for in a Good DUI Attorney:

  1. Practices exclusively Criminal Defense
  2. Does mostly DUI or traffic cases
  3. Clearly explains their policys and fees for appeals.
  4. Contract promises to help you with post conviction programs
  5. Returns your phone calls promptly and is easy to get a hold of
  6. Always make time to meet with you
  7. Gets along well with the judges and prosecution
  8. Is confident and assertive
  9. Has no ethical complaints filed against her
  10. Will not “delegate" your case to someone else
  11. Will listen carefully and answer all of your questions
  12. Empowers you to make your own decisions instead of telling you what you should do.
  13. Organized and detail oriented (How does her office and appearance look?)
  14. Honest and trustworthy

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