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How do I pick a lawyer?

If you've been arrested for a crime including drunk driving (DUI), don't even think about proceeding without a lawyer.  You need a good lawyer, even if you're guilty.

First, even if you believe that you're guilty, you're still legally presumed innocent. A good lawyer can evaluate the strength of the proof against you in ways that you cannot do yourself.

Second, a major issue in every case, but particularly in a DUI case, is whether the police overstepped their bounds and unlawfully stopped, arrested, tested and/or charged you. A good lawyer will evaluate whether you were treated properly. If your rights were violated, there may be no case against you.

Finally, the help of a good lawyer is critical in limiting the damage that a criminal or DUI case can have on your family, your life and your livelihood. Of course a good lawyer can minimize the penalties such as jail, fines and license suspension or revocation.

There are different kinds of lawyers out there. In general, you will find the following:

  • Public defenders
  • Discount lawyers
  • General practitioners
  • Extremely expensive criminal and DUI lawyers

Public defenders are court appointed attorneys for the poor.  You don't get to pick your attorney, the court picks or assigns one for you.  You get what you get.  Even if you are lucky and get an experienced public defender, unfortunately, their case loads are very high, they are often overwhelmed and have little or no time for you.

Avoid the discount lawyer. You will get what you pay for, and that won't be much. Discount lawyers make their money by handling a high volume of cases or by maintaining unreasonably low overhead (no office, no secretary, etc). These lawyers are not skilled in analyzing and defending cases. Rather, they are skilled in quickly disposing of cases by guilty plea.  For example, be skeptical of any lawyer who charges a retainer less than $1500.00 on a first offense DUI, and $2000.00 on a second offense DUI.

Avoid the general practitioner, that is, the lawyer who does some criminal work but also handles real estate, probate, divorce, wills, etc. Such a lawyer may be reasonably priced, but will lack the specialized knowledge and skill necessary to defend your case.

You may wish to hire the most famous criminal defense lawyer you can find.  With a little research, you might be able to find the Johnny Cochran or F. Lee Bailey of your city. These lawyers charge very high fees, For example, in an DUI case, expect these kinds of lawyers to charges retainers in the range of $10,000.00 and up, with substantial additional fees for trial, and more if it is for a repeat offense. Be aware, however, that these attorneys may never work on your case and may pass your case off to an inexperienced associate.  Further, some of the more famous criminal lawyers may not be experienced in DUI cases, as these are seen as too minor to them.

It is wise to choose a reasonably priced experienced criminal defense/DUI lawyer. Such lawyers may handle only criminal/DUI cases and they may also handle other types of litigation such as personal injury. They will not generally handle non-litigation matters, such as wills, probate, real estate, incorporation, etc.  A lawyer who has a reputation as a fighter or trial lawyer tends to be able to negotiate the better plea bargains, when necessary. Again, get a lawyer who has extensive experience in the trial of  criminal/DUI cases.

Bottom line: get the best lawyer you can afford, not the cheapest one you can find.