Chapter 3 - 10 Questions to Ask a DUI Attorney before Hiring
For the majority of people faced with a DUI/DWI charge, this will be their first time researching and hiring an attorney to represent them in a criminal case. We hope to make the task a little less daunting by providing you with ten essential questions you will want to ask when comparing and evaluating attorneys. This way you can feel confident in your final decision that you are hiring the best fit for you and your case.
1. How much experience do you have in terms of number of years spent in the DUI field and number of DUI/DWI cases handled?
While number of years or volume of cases alone does not necessarily equate to a successful lawyer – results are obviously more important – you probably do not want to hire a lawyer who does not have much DUI-related experience, or one fresh out of law school. The field of DUI/DWI law is so complex, an attorney who is used to navigating the scientific, technical and civil liberty aspects of the law will be better equipped to serve your interests than a recent grad.
2. Will you be handling my case in its entirety?
It has become a common industry practice, especially with larger law firms, to have your initial consultation with a senior lawyer who clearly knows their stuff and has been very successful throughout their career. Then when you have decided to hire the firm and pay a retainer, your case is handed off to a lower-level associate who is less experienced. As your attorney is your guide through the entire process - one of the most complicated and stressful processes you may ever have to navigate through - you will want to ensure that the lawyer you hire is actually the one doing the lion’s share of the work on your case, especially when it comes to representing you in court.
3. What is your hourly rate, and can I choose to pay a flat fee or by the hour?
A typical first-time, non-aggravated DUI case takes between 10 to 14 hours to resolve without going to trial. If a lawyer is charging you a flat-rate, it is in his or her interest to resolve the case as quickly as possible. If he charges by the hour, it could be in his or her interest to prolong the resolution. Therefore, if you are paying a flat-fee, you should ask the lawyer how they came up with that amount, and what their typical hourly rate is. If the math doesn’t work out, then move on to a different lawyer.
If you decide to work with a lawyer that charges by the hour, you should ask for a ballpark number of hours that the case will take and pre-agree to a minimum and maximum number. You should agree to be alerted by the lawyer as soon as possible if any circumstances do arise that could affect the number of hours that the attorney will need to work on the case.
You should also find out ahead of time what the lawyer charges to prepare and argue your case at trial as this can add to the cost of your defense considerably.
4. What representation is included in your fee, and what isn’t?
Many people do not realize that when they are charged with and convicted of a DUI, there are two separate processes which you will need to navigate. One is the criminal process handled by the county court in which you were charged; the other is the administrative process, handled by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for your state. There are potential hearings during both processes, and so you need to ensure that the lawyer you hire includes representation both in court and at the DMV in their fee. This is also a good time to ask about any additional fees or expenses that could occur.
If you and your attorney decide to take the case to trial, there will normally be an additional fee of a couple of thousand dollars for the attorney’s time, and extra expenses to bring in expert witnesses.
5. How many cases do you handle simultaneously? What is your typical caseload?
Certain lawyers will charge discount rates for DUI representation and make up for their lower fee by handling several cases at once. The care and attention that the lawyer will be able to give to each case is therefore reduced. A lawyer should generally not be going to court for two different clients in the same day, so ask him or her to confirm that when they are in court representing you, they will only be handling your case, and not anyone else’s.
6. What are the best, worst and most likely outcomes I can expect for my case?
While the attorney may not be able to answer this with great certainty until they have conducted a detailed case review, which will normally take place after you have agreed to hire them and paid a retainer, they should be experienced enough to have a handle on the potential merits and weakness of your case after the initial consultation.
Be very wary of attorneys that try to sugarcoat or overstate the best-case outcomes for your case. If the attorney is not being honest with you upfront that there is a chance they may not be able to do anything to help improve the outcome of your case, you should immediately walk out of their office.
7. What is your policy on returning phone calls and emails?
Some attorneys especially at larger law firms literally never answer the phone. Their calls are always screened by a paralegal and/or legal secretary. This is fine and understandable given their busy schedules and need to work uninterrupted. However, it can be extremely frustrating for the client if they leave a message and do not hear back from their lawyer within a timely period – say 24 hours. So make sure your attorney or a well-briefed paralegal is available to speak with regarding your case at all times (within reason), and when they are not, ensure that they adhere to a strict 24 hour call or email return policy.
8. Do you specialize in DUI cases or do you handle a wide range of cases?
There is some debate within the legal profession as to whether or not a specialist makes for a better lawyer when it comes to representing a particular type of case. Those that specialize and go to the trouble to get certified by the National College for DUI Defense Education would argue that this certification makes them better-equipped to handle the complexities and subtleties of DUI law. Those that handle a broader roster of cases including other criminal cases, personal injury, and bankruptcy for example, would argue that they are skilled and aggressive enough to be able to get a good result in any type of case.
9. What Certification or Special Training do you have that makes you qualified to handle DUI cases?
This might include certification in administering field sobriety tests, breath tests, handling scientific evidence, drug recognition evaluation, and so on. The more certifications and training a DUI lawyer has in the field, the more knowledgeable he or she will be about the specific procedures police officers must adhere to. A skilled attorney will sniff out any improper handling or evidence or lapses in procedure like a bloodhound, and this could lead to an extremely strong defense for your case.
10. What professional bodies or associations do you belong to?
At a minimum, your attorney must be registered with the state bar association in order to practice law. An attorney may also be a member of the National College for DUI Defense, and organization recognized by the American Bar Association, and which has strict criteria for membership. At a minimum, an attorney must devote at least 50% of their practice to DUI cases, must have been practicing DUI law for at least two years, must attend at least one seminar per year on DUI law, and must provide at least two references from judges or other DUI attorneys in order to be accepted as a member.
Your decision should be based on your own assessment of the attorneys you have spoken to (see worksheet below), any reviews you have read about the attorney on sites like Avvo.com, whether the attorney’s fee seems reasonable compared to what other attorneys you have spoken to are charging, the fee is affordable to you and you are confident there are no “hidden costs”, and your confidence-level in terms of the attorney’s skill and ability to represent your interests based on their certification, special training, and membership to professional associations.
The DUI Guide - Content
- Chapter 1 - Immediately Following a DUI
- Chapter 2 - DUI Checklist
- Chapter 3 - 10 Questions to Ask a DUI Attorney before Hiring
- Chapter 4 - Worksheet for Interviewing Attorneys
- Chapter 5 - Timeline of a DUI
- Chapter 6 - License Suspension Hearing and Obtaining a Restricted License
- Chapter 7 - How to Present Yourself in Court
- Chapter 8 - Enrolling in DUI Classes
- Chapter 9 - Getting an Ignition Interlock Device Installed
- Chapter 10 - SR-22 Insurance
- Chapter 11 - Paying Fines and Fees
- Chapter 12 - Meeting the Terms of Your Probation
- Chapter 13 - Getting a DUI Record Expunged