The biggest decision in your DUI saga will be how you want to represent yourself legally. It’s a difficult and costly decision that has a lot of pitfalls involved, and it’s one of the most “not fun” processes of the whole endeavor.
To Have A Lawyer or Not
This is an incredibly difficult decision. Unfortunately, as with most of the decisions you make during this time, there’s no way to know things would be like if you had gone the other way. It’s hard to say that you made a “right” decision - the best you can opt for is knowing that you made a “smart” decision.
Anecdotally, it seems to me that most people do not
choose to get a lawyer’s help in these matters. Or, as it seems to be with most matters, people are ashamed of spending the money involved in a lawyer, and they don’t want to admit they got one. I struggled with this decision, money was already tight before I got the DUI, and the strain of this was already looking to make matters worse. I really, really, really didn’t want to spend thousands on a lawyer, every time I got quoted a price, my heart just sank.
Ultimately I decided to get a lawyer because I needed the guidance that they offer. I’d never been through the legal system before, I was already confused reading outdated and inaccurate information online, and my expectations of what would happen were misguided. Would I have been able to get through everything? Probably, but it would’ve been difficult, and it’s always easier to have somebody experienced going on a journey with you. I needed somebody knowledgable, who knew the steps, and more importantly, knew the pitfalls along the way. The advice I had gotten was that it’s probably wise to get a lawyer for anything larger than a parking ticket.
What’s important to remember about the lawyer is that a lawyer is not going to get you out of this
. Everybody who gets into this situation begins to imagine some Perry Mason
or 12 Angry Men
scenario where a plucky lawyer, bent on breaking the system argues for hours upon hours and inspires a jury to not only vote you “Not Guilty”, but it inspires them to make something out of themselves.
Not going to happen.
Your DUI lawyer is mostly going to be your legal consultant more than trial lawyer (I get into what your DUI lawyer really does here). They’ll represent you in court, so you don’t have to go (I have no idea what the court that tried me looks like or where it is, even), and do what they can to defend you, but they’re not going to fight the system, they try to work it a bit.
Basically, you pay your retainer fee and your lawyer takes care ofdoes all of your appearances, paper work, negotiations, and various other legal affairs - filing paperwork and so on. Most likely they’ll have you plea out your case and negotiate the lightest possible sentence based on that.
Not quite a fight.
Finding A Lawyer
Like anybody else my age, I went directly to the internet! It’s overwhelming. Typing in “DUI Lawyer Cityname” into Google provides an avalanche of shady looking websites, all asking for a whole lot of personal information. Not quite what I wanted.
For whatever reason I decided to look at Yelp. Reading over the reviews and their styles, it all just felt fake to me. You also have to think - who in the world reviews their DUI lawyer on yelp? Most people want to hide their DUI experience, not tie it into their list ranking the city’s Pad Thai places. The reviews on Avvo seemed better, but who could I trust? I ended up reaching out to a few friends and seeing if they knew anybody as well as pulling a few off of Avvo. The best course of action for this - cast a wide net, get a lot of options.
Choosing A Lawyer
Another difficult decision, one with no “right” or “wrong” answer, one that you have no idea what would have happened otherwise. Again, the key is to make the smartest decision you can. Use your head and your gut. Your gut picks up on the vibe, and other things, it’s your animal senses, it handles trust - and if you don’t think you can trust somebody, don’t have them as the person keeping you out of jail.
It’s important to start calling lawyers - more than one
- as soon as possible after your arrest. The consultations are always free, and they’ll give you a lot of valuable ground-level information right up front. Even if you decide not to go with a lawyer it’s good to make a few calls just to see what the basic steps and options are. Take meticulous notes - both on the legal stuff, and your feelings about the lawyer themself
. You want to make sure the lawyer is knowledgable, and understands your case.
I can’t tell you what values to look for - but make sure the lawyer you choose fits you. I talked to slick, shady types, up-front-and-honest ones, fighters, rationalists, plenty. Whatever course of action you want to take, you can find a lawyer that does that.
The False Hope Of The Lawyer
There is a drawback, however. When calling lawyers, each and every one of their ears perked up when I mentioned that the cop had stopped me for “Weaving within my lane” (this reasoning, of course, would not be what he put on the police report, but more on that later). They all thought they had a chance at a dismissal for an illegal stop. This, in turn, got me more excited.
Yes, I’m going to beat this, I’m going to get off scott free! I’ve learned my lesson, but things will be ok!
No, not quite.
What’s important to remember is that these calls are sales calls
. Yes, the lawyer is interested in defending you, but they’re mostly interested in the retainer that you’re going to pay them. If they can make you think that you have a sliver of a chance, they’re going to try their best to convince you that they can change that sliver into a chasm. Just how the world works.
When talking with the lawyer they’re going to tell you about false readings, errors in procedure, and lab tests, and all sorts of things to make you think you’ve got a shot at beating the case or getting a reduced charge. Most likely you don’t
. Let me say that again, just to let it sink in a little bit. In most instances, your lawyer will not do anything to “beat” your case
. Consider them your Sherpa for this Mount Everest.
Visiting The Lawyers
From the lawyers you’ve called, pick at least two and go visit them in person. I know in this digital age we want to do everything remotely, and it’s hard to look people in the eye at this point and talk about your arrest, but you’ll be glad you did. Again, visit at least two
. Get a feeling for the environment they work in, how busy their office is, how nice their office is (you’re helping pay for it), how they treat their staff, everything.
Remember, these are sales visits
. The lawyer is going to fit you into his schedule, meeting with you, answer all of your questions, and treat you like the few thousand bucks that you are. This experience often does not reflect what the actual process of interacting with the lawyer will be like (see: What Your DUI Lawyer Really Does
Ask lots of questions, any information you have will help you in both being reassured that this is not the end of the world, and in your legal case, as well in your search for your lawyer. There are no dumb questions
. Even if you ask a dumb question, you will see how the lawyer absorbs and reacts to it. Your gut will pick up on this information.
Ultimately, I went with a lawyer who seemed like he had some fight in him, who knew the tricks, who might pull something out to get this dismissed or lowered. That’s how I was feeling, I felt that this is a battle, I should have a fighter.
What should this cost?
This is another tricky question with no good answer (sensing a theme?). When searching I looked for advice on this matter and there’s no real consensus on this. I had one potential lawyer tell me $2,000 - $4,000 was a good range… but he was a lawyer. It’s not that terrible of a range to look in, however.
Know your budget, know what you can afford. But, in my opinion, the money should be secondary to how you feel about your lawyer, their reputation, track record, etc. If you need to you can always make more money. Most lawyers take credit cards, and so if you have space, you can float their services for a while.
What’s really important is to make clear what services are included and what services are not included
in your lawyer’s services. Most of the time you will be paying your lawyer for taking care of court appearances, filing papers with the court, and working out the details of your plea bargain. Most lawyers do not include a trial in these services and will charge you extra on top of this retainer if you decide to take it to trial
. Trials are expensive and eat up a lot of the lawyer’s time and a lawyer’s time, as your are well finding out, is not cheap. Yes, it’s a shitty system that’s designed to have you plead guilty even if you think that you may be able to get out of it based on a technicality, or testimony, or other manner. If you are the type that’s gearing up for a long extended fight, ask lots of questions about what is and isn’t covered in the retainer - who covers the cost of additional lab tests? Of consultants? If you take your case to trial it’s going to end up being exceptionally expensive. But if that’s what you want, and you can afford it, then by all means, go for it.
One thing that bothered me about my lawyer’s costs in the end is that there wasn’t anybody in his office who was notarized, so when it came time to plea out, I had to go find a notary and pay the fifteen bucks. Doesn’t seem like that, but I paid all that money, cut me a break on the stamp!
If you’re feeling wary about the cost of the lawyer here’s what helped me. Take the cost of the lawyer and divide it by 200 - $200/hour is about what a decent lawyer costs. As such your resulting number is the base numbers of hour of work you’re paying for. Could be more, could be less. If you require multiple visits, delay your trial a few times, have lots of filing, your retainer could end up as a bargain.
How do I feel about my lawyer and the whole experience? Well, like I said, it’s impossible to know the various outcomes and scenarios of what could have happened. I opted for a lawyer that seemed like he was a fighter, but all I had to go on was what I believed to have happened, what the phony friendly cop had told me, and the impressions from other lawyers. I didn’t go with the cheapest lawyer (felt that was just a bad way to go) but didn’t go with the most expensive lawyer (couldn’t afford it, and I spoke to some that gave me a quote well above the $4K mark). I negotiated with my lawyer for an amount and payment structure that seemed pretty decent, a smart decision at the time.
Knowing what I know now… I think I overpaid a bit. I think I could have saved myself a few hundred dollars. The representation I did get was good, I did get the minimums, but I have to wonder - without priors would this have been what would’ve happened if I had a cheaper lawyer? Maybe the same without any lawyer? No way to know, sadly. Still, given how difficult it was to get my lawyer sometimes, I wonder if I could’ve saved a little bit of money.
Oh well. It’s done. And I just have to deal with what’s happened and move forward.
Sensing a trend?