The day before I began writing this article, I received an email from another Detroit area DUI lawyer who commented on some of my DUI blog articles. He indicated that he agreed with some, and disagreed with others. As it turns out, this lawyer is a substantial player in the DUI world. I have attended seminars where he has spoken, and I am familiar with his work. My first instinct was to recoil defensively and say something back. However, his message to me was both complimentary and factual. There was nothing for me to get mad about. On top of that, given his stature, I was honestly flattered that he would give me the time of day in the first place. He may see things differently than I do on some points, but I’d be a fool not to reevaluate anything I have written in light of his opinion regarding it.
In the past, I have referred a few cases his way. While it may seem that we share the same pool of prospective clients, the reality is that, for the most part, our respective clienteles don’t overlap nearly as much as one might at first think. To be sure, I have been rather generous in describing myself as “different” and unique. I put out a lot of useful information about DUI and driver’s license restoration, and I am not shy in directing anyone to it. In terms of driver’s license restoration cases after multiple DUI convictions I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit that I think of myself as THE guy. The DUI field is far more crowded, however, and I am sometimes critical of the various approaches taken by some lawyers. I want to clarify a few things about that here.
First, I absolutely believe that there are too many lawyers with hands out for your money that will charge far more than they are worth, or will be quick to produce a result not in line with how they make things sound and the cost of the services they provide. This does not apply to the lawyer who emailed me. The problem is that while he is the “real deal,” there are too many other lawyers who just try to be. In short, you have to do some homework as a consumer to protect yourself from getting fleeced.
Second, the legal business is no different than any other in the sense that there is a lot of money to be made telling people what they want to hear, rather than what they need to hear. In this regard, I am different because I tell it like it is. It would be a lot easier for me to join the party and play off of people’s hopes and fears, but I have this hard-headed notion of trying to be moral and do things right. This whole “being honest” thing winds up costing me a lot of money, but I get this idea that “karma” will somehow wind up paying me back somewhere down the road. Apparently, however, whatever payday I’m hoping for, it doesn’t seem like it will happen at my bank. Scare tactics and promises that sound (and often are) too good to be true seem to be a big trend in DUI marketing. I refuse to do that…
Popular advertising suggests, for example, that if you feel like you look old, a quick facelift (financing available!) will make you young and beautiful. An affordable dental procedure will give you a million-dollar smile. Take this pill and you will feel great. Get an online degree and you can be on your way to a high-paying dream job. Hire the right income tax firm and they can find all kinds of money you can get back in your refund. DUI lawyers have come to market themselves much the same way, but I just have no stomach for that.
Frankly, I hate having to play certain “games” that are more or less forced upon us by the real world. I don’t know of any other lawyer who lists his or her prices on their website, but I do. While I understand why everyone else chooses not to publish what he or she charges, I can’t get past wondering why everyone thinks this should be a big secret. When I’m looking for a service, I absolutely hate that that kind of sales technique. I want an idea of what something is going to cost before I’ll waste any time considering it.
As I mulled over the observations of the lawyer who emailed me, it made me think, or really re-think a few things; chief amongst them was defining my place in the field of DUI lawyers. In the business world, branding is important. An important part of my brand has always been the idea the success in a DUI case is calculated by what does not happen to you. I come at a DUI case from that angle. I direct the bulk of my efforts to shaping the outcome of those cases that go all the way through the court system. My specialized training, beyond law school, is in addiction studies. I am actively and formally involved in the University, post-graduate level study of alcohol problems. And just to be clear, “post-graduate” doesn’t just mean “graduate school,” it means graduate school for individuals who already possess a relevant Master’s or Doctorate degree.
Michigan DUI laws require that every person who is sentenced for a DUI offense be “screened,” meaning given an alcohol assessment that he or she must complete. The answers provided are then “scored,” and that number is compared to a scoring key in order to determine where on the continuum of a drinking problem (from “no problem” to “possible problem” to “early stage problem” to full-blown, “late stage problem”) the person falls. The assessment test is the most important part of a larger overall screening process often called a “PSI,” short for pre-sentence investigation. The end result of a PSI, which is conducted by a probation officer from the court, is a written sentencing recommendation that the probation officer must complete and forward to the Judge to be used when he or she sentences a DUI driver.
In the real world, this recommendation is highly influential. For enough reasons to fill a book, all Judges tend to follow the recommendation very closely. In fact, if there’s one criticism, it’s that Judges tend to be “robots” that simply follow these recommendations blindly. Whatever else, you’ll never hear any criticism of any Judge for routinely going off the reservation and NOT following his or her probation department’s recommendation. Accordingly, the sentencing recommendation in any DUI case can really be considered a kind of blueprint or script for what will happen to you when you ultimately appear for your sentencing.
This means that by the time you show up in court to face the Judge for sentencing, what’s going to happen to you has already largely been determined. We can stop right here and pose a simple question that makes the rest of what I want to go over rather clear:
Do you think it would be better to show up to court having a very lenient and favorable sentencing recommendation, knowing the Judge is likely to follow it, and then jump on the bandwagon and ask him or her to go along with it, or do you think it would be better to come to court to face a more demanding and tougher recommendation, and then try and get the Judge to disregard it?
The answer is self-evident; a favorable recommendation is the foundation of a favorable sentence.
It has been my overwhelming experience, validated again and again with almost daily appearances in court on DUI cases that taking the necessary steps to make sure my client does extremely well at the PSI stage, and on the alcohol assessment test in particular, is the single most important aspect of producing a better outcome. And who better to make sure you do well on the court’s alcohol screening test than a lawyer with high-level clinical training and an ongoing program of study? Every DUI lawyer should be the best at something relevant to a DUI case. I think I am utterly without competition on this. I can make sure that you do well at this most critical phase of your case, and I alone can speak with the most authority in the courtroom about what does and does not constitute a drinking problem. I can protect your interests unlike anyone else.
The practical implications of this are huge. You’d have to be asleep to not figure out that the whole judicial system is poised to assume that anyone arrested for a DUI has, or at least is far more at risk to have, a drinking problem. Consider this: If you randomly sample 100 people who are either currently facing, or have had a DUI and call them “group 1,” and then you randomly sample another 100 people without asking anything about DUI (“person on the street” sort of thing) and call them “group 2,” would it surprise you to learn that “group 1” has a much higher rate of drinking problems than “group 2”? It is impossible for anyone involved in the handling or DUI cases to be unaware of this, and it’s right what you walk into when you pick up a DUI charge, whether you like it or not.
As much as those facing a DUI are, as a group, more likely to have or be at risk to develop a drinking problem, it is also very much the case that, especially with 1st time offenders, most such people do not have any kind of alcohol disorder. Unless your lawyer has been formally educated in this field, like I have, about the best (and only) thing he or she can say for you in this situation is that he or she doesn’t think that you have any kind problem, and then not be able to explain why. That’s not any kind of defense – that’s defenseless.
In cases where a person does have, or otherwise tests out as being at risk to develop a drinking problem, I can make sure that he or she doesn’t get ground up in the one-size-fits-all, over-the-top AA meetings and counseling requirements favored by the court system. This is another subject about which I could write a book, but the bottom line is that AA is a great program, and, indeed, the only program, for some people. The fact is, however, that there are more people that will hate AA and not do very well in it than there are people who will love it or respond to it.
If your lawyer isn’t extremely well versed in clinical realities and modern treatment modalities, then what can he or she say on your behalf? In order to get you out of a sentence that recommends treatment and counseling that isn’t right for you, your lawyer must be able to give the Judge alternatives, and be able to explain why those alternatives are better, if at least not suitable. That’s precisely where I come in, and I stand alone in that regard.
This is my world. Some lawyers can take apart the breathalyzer machine and put it back together blindfolded. If your case hinges on upon a faulty or unreliable breath test, then that’s great for you. Other lawyers know just about every legal decision in every state regarding probable cause and traffic stops. If your case hinges upon an illegal stop, then there’s your answer, at least if the Judge agrees. If the evidence against you is somehow faulty, then you need a trial lawyer who can convince the jury of that.
If your DUI doesn’t go away, however, none of that will do you any good. Then you need damage control. You will be living with the consequences of your DUI, so you need a lawyer who can handle, meaning minimize, those consequences as much as possible. That’s me.
In the world of DUI cases, you should be a good consumer. If you’ve read my stuff, then I hope you’ve read other lawyer’s stuff, as well. There is simply no reason to not do your homework, and any lawyer worthy of your consideration would agree. Even though I’m in business to make money, I don’t want to be hired simply because I was the fastest person to call someone back, or I had the closest office. I want to be picked because I was the best fit for the person hiring me. If there is one bit of advice I think every decent and honest lawyer would agree with, it’s that you should invest your time in finding the lawyer that’s best for you and your particular situation.