More than 1.28 million drivers were arrested in 2012 for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics.1 This is an arrest rate of 1 for every 165 licensed drivers in the United States. While a Driving Under the Influence (DUI) or Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) arrest is a stressful event for anyone to undergo, it is important to face the situation head on and be as prepared and informed as possible. Hiring an experienced DUI attorney can help take some of the stress away. An attorney can help determine whether to plead guilty or take the case to court. If the case is especially complicated an attorney can help navigate the complex legal system.
All states have DUI laws that deem "per se intoxicated" any driver with a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) above a set limit (now .08 in all states). Additionally, the state may charge the individual for violating more than one law. A DUI attorney can help better understand the charges against you and advise the best way to proceed with your case.
A DUI Conviction Can Cost $20,000 or More
A DUI can have an immediate impact on your day-to-day life — and comes with a hefty cost. The total cost of a DUI depends on a few factors, but the cost of a DUI lawyer alone can cost between $2,500 to $5,000.
DUIs can also affect your driving privileges, your employment, and it may even mean possible jail time. As such, it is necessary to find out your options as soon as possible.
First, you must come up with a plan to tackle the daunting legal battle that comes with fighting a DUI arrest. This article discusses how to hire a DUI attorney and important things to consider when making your decision.
Come Up With a List of Potential Attorneys
There are a number of resources out there to help you in your search for the best DUI attorney. By seeking out personal recommendations and researching National Associations and State Bar Associations you can start filling up your list with some great attorneys to meet with. Like most major decisions in life, you will want to do your due diligence and research your options before choosing the right DUI attorney.
Personal recommendations: A good place to start your search is by soliciting personal recommendations from people you trust. A recommendation from someone who previously used the attorney’s services is probably the best way to go. Your trusted friend or colleague can give you some good information about the overall process, how the attorney performed, and what the outcome was. You can also get an idea of what the total costs were in the end. Keep in mind that not every DUI case is the same and the information you receive from your friend is subject to change based on the facts of your case.
The attorney you used in another matter: If you have ever used an attorney for any other type of case he or she can also be a good resource. Attorneys can refer you to someone who specializes in criminal defense from their network of lawyers that they may know from law school or from their professional practice.
But what if you are too embarrassed to ask a friend or colleague to recommend an attorney? After all, a DUI may impact your personal and professional life. If you prefer to keep your search private the National Associations for criminal defense attorneys and DUI Defense associations are good resources to find qualified attorneys to represent you. Your state may also have a statewide association of criminal attorneys with a similar attorney search feature.
The National College of DUI Defense: This organization provides a searchable directory of attorneys that specialize in DUI defense.2
The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL): This organization also has a national directory of attorneys that practice in criminal defense. You can narrow your search by city, state, and radius.3
California Attorneys for Criminal Justice (CACJ): For those looking for a California DUI lawyer, CACJ is a good resource.4
State Bar Association in your state: The State Bar Association in your home state is another good place to find potential DUI attorneys.
Once you have put a preliminary list of attorneys together you can refer to each attorney’s website or contact them directly to find out more about them.
Determine Whether the Attorney is Qualified to Handle the Case
After your preliminary research is done you will then need to consider each attorney’s qualifications to make the best selection. You will want to find out the attorney’s educational background, what areas they specialize in, and if they are in good standing with their state bar.
Hire a licensed attorney: Make sure that you hire a licensed attorney, as only a licensed attorney will be able to represent you in court. To check whether the individual you want to hire is licensed to practice law in the state where you reside refer to your State Bar website.
Hiring an attorney from another state: If the attorney is not licensed in your state but is licensed in another state he can hire a co-counsel to represent you locally. However, this will likely be more costly in the end.
There are benefits to hiring a local attorney: For example, a local attorney will likely be more familiar with the courts, judges, and prosecutors where your case will be handled. It is to your advantage that the judge knows the attorney’s reputation and respects him. This can mean a less harsh sentence for you or even the dismissal of your case.
Check ethical record: The attorney’s ethical record is also very important to consider. You will want to investigate if the attorney has ever had any disciplinary action taken against them by the state. Make sure the attorney is a member in good standing with the State Bar where you live. Attorney disciplinary records are available to the public and can be found at your State’s Bar website. Be wary of hiring an attorney with a history of malpractice.
Do not hire an attorney that has been disbarred: An attorney that has been disbarred is not allowed to represent you in court.
Hire an attorney with extensive DUI experience and training: When hiring the best DUI attorney you want to make sure that he has extensive knowledge and experience in dealing with DUI cases. While criminal defense attorneys often handle a number of different criminal matters it may be to your advantage to hire an attorney whose sole focus is on DUI cases as he will have a deeper knowledge of the DUI laws.
Find out where the attorney went to law school: Generally the best law schools are those accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA).5 While the attorney’s law school should be taken into consideration it should not be the deciding factor. In fact, many attorneys that have gone to less notable law schools have excelled in their practice and become the best in the field. The most important factor will be how successful the attorney has been at defending his clients in the past.
Check the Attorney’s LinkedIn Profile: A LinkedIn profile can provide additional peer reviews and work history.
Now you are ready to meet with the attorneys you selected for an in-person consultation. Many attorneys offer a free in-person consultation to discuss your case. It is important to be well prepared for the consultation so you get the most out of the meeting.
Meet the Attorney for an In-Person Consultation
An in-person consultation will help you decide which attorney you feel most comfortable with and have the most confidence in. Below are some steps you should take to ensure the best consultation.
Be upfront about all the facts of your case: Now is not the time to be shy. Provide the attorney with all of the facts of the case so he can give you the best advice on how to proceed. Let the attorney determine what is important and relevant to your case and defense. You do not want to end up in a situation where you surprise the attorney with a fact that may harm your case right before you go to trial.
Bring all DUI related documents: The attorney will want to see what violations of the code of law you are being charged with. Do not assume the attorney will already know information about your case as each case is unique. Information such as the police report, DMV letters and all other documents related to the DUI should be presented to the attorney.
Talk to an attorney about his experience: By now you have already checked the attorney’s website or you may know about him from your friend or colleague. You will want to ask the attorney to discuss his success rate, how many cases he has brought to trial, how many he has gotten dismissed, and how many DUI cases has handled. Beware of the attorney that tells you he can guarantee a certain outcome for you as no attorney can give you that guarantee.
Find out who will be handling your case: The attorney you meet with may not be the one who ultimately handles your case. At larger firms, the attorney who meets with you at your initial consult might be a senior attorney or even a partner; however, a younger associate may end up handling your case. While this is common you will want to meet the attorney handling your case so you gauge whether you feel comfortable with him or her. Also find out who will represent you in court as this may also change.
Clear strategy: It is important that after your consultation you walk away with an understanding of the attorney’s strategy to handling your case. The attorney should provide you with a clear strategy evidencing the attorney’s experience in handling DUI cases.
Bring a pen and paper to the consultation: While this may seem obvious, it is often overlooked. You will be presented with a lot of information during your consultation that you will want to keep track of. Since you are hopefully meeting more than one attorney during your search you will need to remember what each attorney recommended.
After meeting with the attorneys you selected you should have a better idea of which one you want to hire. To help you make the right decision consider the following:
Level of Comfort: You will want to select the attorney that you felt the most comfortable with since you will be speaking with him or her throughout the duration of your case.
Good Communication Skills: You want to select the attorney that was best able to relate the information regarding your case in a manner that was easy to understand. Presentation is key in any legal case and the way the attorney communicated with you is a good indication of how he will communicate with the judge and jury.
Confidence: The attorney’s confidence is also important. An attorney that seems ambivalent and does not have clear responses to your questions may not have as much experience as he says.
Trust: It is difficult to know how trustworthy a person is after just one meeting. Client testimonials may help in this regard; however, beware of Yelp reviews or other online reviews by disgruntled clients as they may not be happy with the outcome of their case despite the attorney’s fair representation.
Now that you have an idea of who you want to hire to represent you in your DUI case, factor in the cost of representation before making your final choice.
Consider the Attorney’s Fee
How much does a DUI lawyer cost? On average, the cost for a non-injury, non-property damage DUI is between $5,000 and $12,000. There are many different factors that go into how an attorney sets his or her fees. The ABA offers a complete set of guidelines regarding fees.6 For example, a top DUI attorney may charge more because of his experience, reputation, and ability. But remember, even if you hire an attorney with a great reputation, a junior associate may end up handling your case while the attorney with the big name may only come in at trial.
On the other hand, an attorney that charges a lower fee but has a large volume of cases may not have as much time to focus on your case and his reputation may not be as good as the attorney who charges more. You will want to weigh your options as to how much money you can afford and are willing to spend on your defense.
Fees should be determined in advance: You have the right to have the fees laid out in advance and in a written contract. While additional fees may be incurred along the way the attorney should be able to give you a good estimate of what they will ultimately be. The fees may be hourly or a flat rate. Your state may have their own set of ethical guidelines governing fees that you will want to check prior to signing a contract.
Negotiate: Attorney’s fees are negotiable although attorneys with higher notoriety may be less likely to agree to a lower price given their reputation in the legal field.
What is included in fees?: The contract should break down what the attorney’s fee includes.
Contingency fees not allowed in criminal cases: In a contingent fee arrangement, the lawyer agrees to accept a fixed percentage of the recovery, which is the amount finally paid to the client. If you win the case, the lawyer's fee comes out of the money awarded to you. Note that contingency fees are not allowed in criminal defense cases such as DUI cases under rule 1.5(d)(2) of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct.6
Additional Legal Fees: Find out what if any additional legal fees you will be responsible for that are not included in the attorney’s fees. For example, the attorney’s fee may not cover additional fees incurred for your representation such as expert witness fees.
Price Comparison: Fees will vary by city among the other factors previously discussed. After speaking with several attorneys, you should get a good idea of what a fair price is for the representation you need.
Payment Plan: Find out if the attorney offers a payment plan. This can make paying your attorney’s fees much more manageable.
As demonstrated in this article, there are many factors to consider when hiring a DUI attorney. Make sure to do your research and find out as much about the attorney as you can in order to make an informed decision. A DUI is a serious matter that can impact your life in many ways so you want to make sure you have competent representation. In the end, you should select the attorney that best suits your individual needs.
Looking to hire a DUI attorney? Check out our recent award winners for the best in your area:
Legal Disclaimer: The content of this article provides general information related to the law, it does not provide legal advice. Please consult an attorney for legal advice.
Edward Tsui is a contributing author at Expertise.com. He holds a J.D. from the Boston University School of Law and has successfully passed the California State Bar exam.
Edward's articles are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice regarding any particular issue or problem.