Finding Your Top DUI Lawyer
Michigan’s drunk driving laws are constantly changing. You can learn about these changes on this site and other sites like this one. However, because of the constant changes that surround Michigan OWI law, you will not get justice unless you locate and contact a top OWI lawyer to take charge of your defense.
There are many things you should consider when hiring your OWI defense lawyer. First and foremost, you want a lawyer that specializes in the defense of drinking drivers. There are only a handful of such lawyers in Michigan, and so you will need to eliminate probably 99% of the avowed criminal lawyers to find the ONE “best” attorney for your OWI case.
The following list may prove helpful in finding Michigan’s top DUI lawyer(s). This list is taken from Michigan edition of “The DUI Book“:
A) References from friends or any lawyer you might know personally. A strong reference from a friend or colleague who has successfully referred to or used the potential OWI attorney is often the best indicator of whether a lawyer is worthy of hiring.
B) Community and Courthouse Reputation – Checking the attorney’s COURTHOUSE reputation is the most direct and accurate litmus test of the GREAT drunk driving defense attorneys. Go to the courthouse in the county in which you were arrested, not necessarily the county in which you live. Very politely, talk with a person from the clerk of court’s office, a bailiff, a deputy who is assigned to that courthouse or to a court reporter who is in court. Ask WHICH one of the lawyers you are considering would he or she hire if they were facing a DUI prosecution and HAD TO TAKE THEIR BEST SHOT AT WINNING.
Another good source for a referral is law enforcement officers who regularly face these lawyers in court, assuming they will tell you their honest opinion. Be sure to give them any names you might already have in mind, because they may be hesitant to “recommend” or suggest any one attorney or law firm.
After you receive the name or names from court personnel, check the Internet or professional listings to further investigate any possible candidates.
C) Advanced Training. After you receive the name or names from court personnel, check them out on-line with a Google or Yahoo search. Search the Internet profiles of any attorney you consider to confirm that he or she actually specializes in “drunk driving defense.”
D) Specialized Membership or Professional Affiliations. Once you have names and have checked out their websites, before you call any one attorney, consider their “involvement” and “commitment” to the field of drunk driving defense. See if the candidate lawyer associates with the following: National College for DUI Defense, Inc; The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), and Martindale-Hubbell (look for an “AV” rating).
E) Disciplinary Actions. Has the attorney ever been disciplined by the Board of Professional Responsibility of the State bar of his/her practice location? Contact the American Bar Association on line to find links to all state Bar associations.
Once you have the name of your top choice, and perhaps your number two choice, it is now time to interview them, to see if they fit YOUR needs. The supposed “best” OWI lawyer may not be the best one for you if your personalities clash. Because you will be forging a very personal relationship with your attorney to help you during this stressful time, it is important that you select an attorney who makes you feel comfortable as well as confident. Write your questions down before you even go in and ask them about the following:
A) Seminar Speaker. The top attorneys in each state are asked to speak for OWI-DUI seminars in their state and others.
B) Fees and Fee Structure. How does the attorney set his or her fees? Most drunken driving lawyers work on a flat fee basis. As you might expect, highly experienced attorneys often charge much higher fees than younger, less experienced lawyers. For many persons facing the extreme penalties of an OWI conviction, price is secondary to an excellent track record for results. One ex-State trooper turned DUI attorney from Louisiana, Glynn Delatte, ends each e-mail with this maxim: “Good lawyers aren’t cheap, and cheap lawyers aren’t good.”
C) Focus of practice – Most truly great OWI attorneys either restrict their cases to only drunk driving (and drugged driving) or at least stay entirely within the field of criminal law.
D) Years in Practice – There is no substitute for experience.
E) Lawyer – Paralegal ratio - A busy, experienced DWI-DUI trial attorney will have 1 to 2 paralegals assisting him/her. Trial preparation requires more time than processing guilty pleas. A knowledgeable paralegal is worth his or her weight in gold.
F) Caseload - A trial attorney may limit his or her caseload to between approximately 40 and 80 cases per year. Make sure your attorney will not be too busy to satisfy YOUR needs.
G) Use of Technology – Technology has revolutionized the practice of OWI law probably as much or more than any other area in the legal profession. Lawyers who master technology deliver legal services with better quality and can often leverage technology to deliver legal services less expensively. Ask not only how they utilize technology in the courtroom.
H) Promising too much – Be skeptical about lawyers who promise or even guarantee success. In many instances, it can even be unethical to promise a particular result. This is especially true if such promises or guarantees are made during an initial interview before the full facts of your case are known. If such promises are made, you are probably well advised to seek other representation.
I) Educational Background – You can go to the ABA web site to look up your attorney’s law school. If it is not listed, there could be a problem.
J) Publications – Lawyers who write frequently about their area of law practice tend to keep themselves better informed about their area of specialty. Publications also help demonstrate that the lawyer has a great command of the subject matter, but perhaps even more important, is passionate about the work they do. It is also true that publications can help establish the lawyer’s reputation among fellow lawyers and judges.
K) Promotional Materials - Pay attention to a law firm’s client information package, marketing, Internet and promotional materials. Cheesy written materials usually come from sloppy law firms.
L) Conflicts of Interest – Ask your attorney if he or she will have any conflicts of interest in regards to your case.
M) Engagement Letters – Beware of lawyers who do not put their fee agreements in writing. While this is not an absolute requirement, the rules of professional ethics in Michigan strongly encourage written fee agreements. Also, read the fine print in your engagement letters or “fee agreements.” Make sure you understand what is, and what is not, included in the engagement fee. Otherwise, when looking at the fee charged and comparing it with what is charged by other lawyers, you may not be comparing “apples with apples.”
N) Language Skills – For non-English speakers, a skilled OWI trial attorney who does not speak your language should have staff members available to translate for you or utilize telephone-based translation services. In trial, courts must make translation services available.
O) Ethics – Run as fast as you can from lawyers that tell you it is okay to lie or otherwise act dishonestly. Unethical lawyers rarely have good reputations, and this will hurt you in the long run. Judges never forget lawyers that try to “pull one over” in their courtroom.
P) Personality Compatibility – At the end of the day, a lawyer’s “bedside manner” can mean a lot to how the overall relationship goes. Find a lawyer who really cares about winning, and be realistic about your level of need in being “nurtured” (or not being nurtured) by the attorney. In the end, the question to ask yourself is, “Is this the attorney I want spearheading my defense?”
Q) Communication – The number one complaint against lawyers in this country is not poor work quality. It is failing to communicate with their clients. You are paying a lot of money to hire a lawyer and it is your right to expect to be kept informed of developments and have your calls and e-mails returned in a timely manner.