- Will the attorney I hire be the attorney who will actually handle my case?
- How much should I expect to pay?
- Beware the dump truck!
- Is the attorney a member of the California DUI Lawyers Association and the National College for DUI Defense?
- Does the attorney own a copy of California Drunk Driving Law, often Considered the "Bible on DUI Defense?
- Is the lawyer creative and sociable?
- Is he or she recognized by others as a leader in the field?
- Will my case be dismissed? What's a "wet reckless"?
- Don't try to hire a good lawyer in order to plead guilty at the first court appearance.
- Wouldn't it be best to hire a local attorney who's friendly with the judge and prosecutor?
- Won't the judge be upset with me if I hire a lawyer and fight the charges?
- Don't expect The Dream Team in the boonies.
You probably want to be personally represented by a big-name, widely respected and experienced DUI attorney; but simply hiring such an attorney doesn't mean that he or she will personally handle your DUI case. Some of the big-name DUI attorneys hire associates - attorney employees, who handle their cases without any guidance or input from the big-named attorney. Some of the best big-named DUI attorneys have associates that work directly with them on DUI cases and these associates are more like assistants or extensions of the big named DUI attorney. Whether this is the case or not, you must make sure the associate attorney is well-trained in the area of DUI defense.
With partners it's often a different story. If the other attorney is a partner of the big-name DUI defense attorney, that person is more likely to be a real "ace" in their own right. A partner, or even an associate-partner as opposed to just an associate, shares ownership of the law firm, and has a bigger stake in the firm's reputation. Big-name DUI attorneys do not typically partner with an attorney that isn't an equal or possess an adequate skill-set.
If you suspect an inexperienced associate attorney is representing you and the big-name DUI attorney has no participation in the case, such as a "bait-and-switch", ask the big-name DUI attorney who will actually make the court appearances in your case. Ask who the attorney will be if the case goes to trial. Ask these questions prior to making an appointment to see the DUI attorney, and insist that you want to see the big-name DUI attorney himself or herself, not an associate or even a non-attorney employee. If the big-name DUI attorney won't meet with you to accept the retainer, imagine how difficult it will be getting him or her to take any interest in your DUI case.
Remember this: If you're interviewed by a non-attorney who seems more like a salesman than a lawyer, you can probably expect to encounter the same unprofessional attitude from that law firm throughout your entire DUI case. DUI defense lawyers have a Code of Professional Conduct that they must adhere to, backed up by the enforcement efforts of the State Bar of California. Non-attorneys have no enforceable rules for their conduct, and thus, can say almost anything to make the sale.
All the attorneys affiliated with "The Recognized Leaders in Drunk Driving Defense" are big-name DUI attorneys, known among other DUI attorneys in California to be the recognized leaders in drunk driving defense, the best of the best. Several are known nationally among DUI defense attorneys. None of them will have a non-attorney interview you and they or one of their well-trained associates will personally try your case if it goes to trial.
Each DUI attorney has something to offer that sets him or her apart from other DUI attorneys. For some, it's low fees. For others, it's an exceptional reputation and high skills to match. It's a fact of life that you won't find both traits in the same lawyer. If it's low fees you're looking for, don't expect exceptionally high skills. But a caveat is important here: you will find an occasional lawyer whose high fees are based upon a superficial appeal, which is often best expressed as: "Who'd want a $500 lawyer when they could get a $5000 lawyer?"
Criminal defense attorneys generally charge an upfront, flat-fee pretrial retainer rather than billing by the hour like civil law lawyers do. Some have a hybrid-fee structure, crediting the retainer fee against an hourly billing rate; however, most retainers simply cover everything needed short of trial. For a big-name DUI attorney with a statewide reputation, you should expect to pay $3500 to $7000 or more for a misdemeanor first offense DUI retainer, depending on the location and the attorney's reputation. If you have one or more prior convictions within ten (10) years, you should expect to pay substantially more, perhaps $7,500 to 12,500 or possibly more. (The more prior convictions you have the more serious the penalties and the more vigorous the defense must be.) The retainer generally covers both the DMV hearing and the court case, except for trial, which is generally billed additional.
"Dump truck" is what some lawyers call other lawyers who mostly just plead clients guilty at early stages of the proceedings without ever reviewing any discovery, pursuing any motions, or subpoenaing officers or criminalist to DMV hearings instead of actually trying to win DUI cases or take them to trial. Unfortunately, there are a large number of Dump Truck laweyrs out there in the area of DUI defense in the State of California. They can be spotted in several ways.
Any lawyer that quickly leads the conversation into talk about plea-bargaining, so it seems that is the primary focus, is suspect, unless, of course, there's a prior DUI conviction, a high blood alcohol level, a traffic collision, hit and run charge or some other aggravating factor that would warrant consideration). Another sign of the dump truck is promises to get it all taken care of quickly with the least inconvenience on your part.
Dump truck lawyers often run what some DUI attorneys call DUI mills with a large number of unsupervised associate attorneys; or worse yet, attorneys that are hired on a per-appearance basis - they are paid maybe $100 each time they go to court. One sure sign of the dump truck is a low retainer fee, either alone or coupled with a comparatively astronomical trial fee. Ask up front how much the daily trial fee is. A reasonable fee - one designed to adequately compensate the attorney for hours of trial preparation as well as 8 to 10 or more hours per day during the trial itself - is between $1000 and $2500 per day. Such a fee is reasonable without being primarily intended to discourage clients from pursuing a DUI trial.
Ask how many trials each of the firm's lawyers tried in the past year. Though the number varies from county to county, a skilled DUI defense firm will try at least 4 to 10 or more cases per year. A "not guilty" verdict on all counts is a win. A hung jury with a great plea bargain deal afterwards is also a win.
The "Recognized Leaders"© attorneys won't hesitate to take a DUI case to trial if that is what it takes. They're fighters, not dump trucks.
The best attorneys participate as speakers in drunk driving defense seminars for other lawyers. There are two to four big statewide seminars per year on this subject in California, put on or cosponsored by California DUI Lawyer Association (CDLA), National College for DUI Defense (NCDD), California Attorneys for Criminal Justice (CACJ) or California Public Defenders Association (CPDA). Those who are asked back to speak again and again are generally recognized by others as leaders in their field.
Most of the "Recognized Leaders"© DUI attorneys are regular speakers at seminars for other attorneys on drunk driving defense.
There's over 150,000 lawyers in California. Only a fraction of them are serious enough about this area of practice to join the California DUI Lawyers Association or the National College for DUI Defense. California DUI Lawyers Association is the only statewide bar association of lawyers who do DUI defense. A "Regular Member" is an attorney who meets the minimum qualifications for membership, with an added interest in staying up on development and networking with other DUI attorneys in his or her field. A "Specialist Member" is one who has met strict requirements for skills and experience certification by the organization (see the membership application for details). There's only about 30 specialist members. (Associate members are non-attorney professionals with an interest in drunk driving defense.)
All the "Recognized Leaders"© attorneys are all "Specialist Members" of the California DUI Lawyers Association.
It's agreed among experienced attorneys in the field of drunk driving defense that you cannot do a competent job of defending a person accused of drunk driving without a copy of California Drunk Driving Law. Nevertheless, only about 1200 attorneys own a current copy of it. Why not more? In one recent sales effort 1000 lawyers were called on the telephone and offered a 30-day free trial. They were chosen because every single one of them had a yellow page ad saying he or she handled drunk driving cases and each of them had never owned a copy of the book. Though we sold some books, most of them weren't interested. Those attorneys are still out there taking people's money to represent them in drunk driving cases. If you don't stay up on the law, you can't pursue a thorough DUI defense. Remember, knowledge is power.
All the "Recognized Leaders"© attorneys are on the Editorial Board of California Drunk Driving Law and the accompanying website at: www.californiadrunkdrivinglaw.com.
Criminal trials involve a process known among lawyers as "suspending reality" for the jury. That involves, number one, making the jury feel good about liking you. That's so the jury can willingly accept the possibility that you may be innocent, without thinking too much about all those other people who want to convict you, like the judge, the prosecutor, the cops and the criminalist). Winning DUI trials also requires creative skills, presenting each case to the jury with another new angle that's unexpected by the prosecutor. It's kind of like planning the plays for a Superbowl. All this takes a lawyer with reasonably good acting ability and great social skills. If you feel like the attorney you're considering hiring is a person who is creative, feels comfortable and confident, and puts you at ease (as best as can be, under the circumstances), you've probably got a winner. But you'll need to talk to the attorney him or herself to make this determination.
All "Recognized Leaders"© attorneys the friendly, likable, persuasive, and creative DUI defense attorneys.
Dismissal of all DUI charges is a routine procedure when the defendant plea bargains for a reduced charge, such as alcohol related reckless driving, also known as "wet reckless". When that happens, all drunk driving charges are dismissed and the client pleads guilty to the freshly added lesser charge.
If an attorney claims that drunk driving charges have often been dismissed for his or her clients, ask if those clients were convicted of anything else instead.
A quick guilty plea at the first court appearance may occasionally be justified. Good lawyers prefer not to accept cases for clients who just want to plead guilty with a attorney by their side. Dump trucks do that routinely, but good DUI attorneys won't take a case like that unless it's a first offense with a high blood alcohol result and the client just wants a quick review and advice. This service takes less time, including the time spent with you on the phone and in the office. So it's worth less than a case that a DUI defense lawyer may expect to go to trial.
There's pros and cons to only hire local counsel, which probably balance out; but if the attorney makes it a major selling point, one begins to wonder if there's anything more substantial that the attorney has to offer. "Recognized Leaders"&tocopy attorneys only handle DUI cases in areas in which they are familiar with the courts or the attorney hires local co-counsel to assist with any politics that may be associated with being considered "outside counsel" in a local court.
The constitution prohibits punishing you for asserting your right to a trial. Despite the constitution though, a very small number of judges do threaten greater penalties later for not pleading guilty early. This tactic should not be tolerated. A good DUI lawyer armed with a solid background in the law, and a willingness to challenge this type of judge can often prevail over even the worst of them. After all, isn't that what you hire a good DUI lawyer for?
But if you feel like you'll just never be able to get rid of that knot in your stomach that shows up when you question authority, and you're too frightened to fight the charges in spite of that knot, you'll have to plead guilty . . . even if you aren't. It takes courage to have things your way. Sometimes it takes a lot of it.
Much of the foregoing assumes you have many choices of who to hire. Obviously your choices are more limited when the court is remote from major urban areas and their suburbs. Of course, there are small towns with very good lawyers. One of the best is Gerry Spence, who lives in Jackson Hole, Wyoming; but it's a fact of life that the better lawyers do tend to be in large urban areas. Many of the "Recognized Leaders"&tocopy attorneys will appear in these small towns with the assitance of local counsel.