The inspiration for this blog article comes from a recent conversation with my wife. I was mentioning something that a female DUI client of mine had said when my wife observed that I seem to have a lot of women clients. I had to pause for a moment, and then agree, that, yes, in fact, I do. Of course, my poor wife, having only made a passing comment, then had to endure my long, boring analysis of why that’s the case. In this circumstance, she indulged me a bit, and then suggested that I make this the subject of one of my upcoming articles. I agreed, not because I think I’m some expert on women’s issues (although as a married man who has been with the same woman for 31 years, living with her and a daughter, and having an office staff of 3 women, I think it would be fair to say that any of my “rougher edges” have been smoothed off and I certainly have learned how to keep my mouth shut) but because I think my particular approach to drinking and driving cases, beginning right from the very office staff I mentioned, just lines up with what many women want or need when dealing with the emotions and stress of a Michigan DUI, meaning an OWI (operating while intoxicated) or High BAC charge.
In the first place, when you hire a doctor, dentist, DUI lawyer or just about any service professional, the focus needs to be on you, and not him or her. At best, all of the qualifications in the world means better able to help you. On my website and in my various DUI blog articles, I go into rather significant detail and answer a lot of questions that people usually have when facing a drunk driving charge. This is a big, first clue about my office, and certainly stands in stark contrast to those lawyers who describe themselves as “tough” and “aggressive.” Those are minimum qualifications. The type of client with whom I work best has concerns about which he or she needs specific answers. For example, a single mother facing a DUI may be most worried about her driver’s license, and her ability to get her kids to daycare or school. I address those very concerns on my website and in several of my DUI blog articles. Thus, I prefer posting information instead of testimonials. The point I’m making is that anyone facing a DUI needs to find a lawyer whose approach is compatible with his or her needs. Yet for all of that, someone may not care about all the details, and just prefer to hand things over to the strong, silent type.
When you call my office, either my senior assistant or my paralegal will answer the phone. Both of these women have husbands and children, although my senior assistant has grown kids and my paralegal has little ones. Unlike most offices, where a consultation requires that you take time away from your day to “come in” for an appointment, we do them right over the phone, when you call. More important, whoever takes your call can and will answer your questions right then and there. You don’t have to be transferred down the line to speak with me, nor do you have to wait for a callback at my convenience. Instead, you call in at yours, and can learn as much as you’d like about your situation. My staff works on DUI cases all day long, every day. They know all about how things work in the local courts of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties, and they know how I do things. We are all friendly, helpful and talkative. We’re the kind of people that you’d wind up chatting with in the checkout line at some store. Indeed, if I were asked to define myself, as a lawyer, by any one thing, it would be my staff…
A few years ago, my wife and I had a basement waterproofing issue in a house we owned, so we called and checked around. The one thing that turned me off right out of the gate were those operations that wouldn’t give me any price or other information over the phone, and would only schedule someone to come out. One business, however, was different. The lady who answered the phone asked me a few questions, and, although she wasn’t a technician, helped me understand the general scope of my problem. Moreover, she didn’t make everything sound all rosy; based upon her experience, she was able to tell that I most likely had a foundation problem, and she at least gave me a ballpark idea of the cost. Sure enough, when I did get a few people out, her assessment turned out to be correct. Ultimately, we used her company (they were far from the lowest priced) because I liked her and the technicians they sent out and I felt most comfortable with them.
It’s all well and fine to have nice people manning the shop, so to speak, but the real work involved in a DUI case is legal, and that falls to me. Important in my approach to handling DUI case is “who you are.” This isn’t to say that just because you’re really nice, the whole thing will go away, but in the larger picture, how this instance of bad judgment contrasts with the rest of your life really does matter. A career criminal with no job has far less “social capital” than a woman who takes care of her children. Whether she’s a stay-at-home mom or a career person, she has an investment in the world through those children, and, if she’s employed outside of the home, her employment, as well. In almost every life transaction, our social capital comes into play, even though it often takes place beneath our consciousness. Contrary to the idea of justice being blind, justice takes a very close look at the person standing in court. The more social capital you have, the better, period. This is why people often (and correctly) point out that the rich and connected get away with far more than the poor and uneducated ever could. This may be far from perfect, but the majority of my clients have more social capital than less, and it is my job to use that for all the advantage its worth.
In that regard, a controlling Michigan Supreme Court case (People v. Shavers, 448 Mich. 389 (1995)) held that, “[T]he policy of the State of Michigan favors individualized sentencing for every convicted Defendant. The sentence must be tailored to fit the particular circumstances of the case and the Defendant. In tailoring the sentence to the offense and the Defendant, the Court has gathered complete and detailed information about the Defendant…” In DUI cases, the law imposes additional penalties just for being a repeat offender. Therefore, who you are, what you have done, and, just as important, what you haven’t done in life is very important to your case. And it would essentially deny either a man or a woman his or her fair due, and almost deny his or her very identity, to ignore gender. And for everything we can say about this, the bottom line is that women may still be subjected to a kind of double standard in certain things, including when facing a DUI.
Even more important, a woman may feel differently about a DUI than a man in the same position. For a guy, a DUI can represent a little too much fun at a golf outing with his friends. Typically, if he has kids, they are safe and sound with their mother when he and the boys overindulge. If a woman goes out with her friends and has a few too many, then we almost automatically ask, “Does she have kids? Where were they?” The two genders face different scrutiny and they will self-assess differently, as well. This really doesn’t need to be explained to a woman; lots of men, on the other hand, simply don’t get this, not that am I so smart as to have figured this out on my own. It’s not like just being surrounded by women at home and work turned me into Mr. Understanding. Indeed, I first learned to recognize these issues in the classroom. I had been a practicing lawyer for a long time before I decided to return to a University campus and begin a post-graduate program in addiction studies, but it sure opened my eyes. Among the things I learned was that one of the more important facets of modern counseling (remember, my chosen profession is technically called “Attorney and Counselor at Law”) is called “cultural competence,” and it means being aware of, if not familiar with, those things that are relevant to a person’s cultural, gender and racial background and identity. In other words, it is important to understand the context of the person’s life with whom you are dealing.
In the context of a DUI case, this kind of “cultural competence” is great for a lawyer to have, but it winds up having no value if it doesn’t translate into more than just a sense of deeper understanding of the client. For example, I have, in some of my other articles, pointed out that all the technical knowledge some DUI lawyers have of how the breathalyzer machine works is worthless unless your case is thrown out of court because of problems with the breath test. A lawyer may be able to take that thing apart and put it back together while blindfolded, but if he of she doesn’t get your DUI case dismissed because of some issue with that device, that knowledge brings exactly zero benefit to you. The same holds true with understanding that a DUI can be “different” for a woman. Okay, so you’re sensitive to my concerns; big whoop. These issues have to be used to produce a better outcome in the case, and they can be, if handled properly. This brings me to another key point I’m fond of making: The best outcome in any case (DUI or otherwise) comes from combining a thorough knowledge of the fact of the case and the law with the careful management of perception, science and time. Even a superficial examination of that would amount to a long series of articles, but the key takeaway is that beyond all of the things that affect the outcome of a case, we must never forget that perception is reality, so management of perception trumps everything.
Imagine a lawyer trying to negotiate with the prosecutor. The lawyer points out that his DUI client, Debbie the Driver, is a single mom who needs to get her kids to school. The prosecutor is not going to just fold and say, “Oh, wow. Well, in that case, we’ll just dismiss the whole thing. Tell her we’re sorry for any inconvenience.” Instead, if that’s the best a lawyer offers up about his client, the prosecutor is likely to say something like, “Well, then she should have thought about that before she got loaded drunk and drove a car.” The single mom thing may be of the utmost importance to the client, but it won’t be to the prosecutor. How should this be handled? There are a million different ways, and the propriety of any particular approach depends on the confluence of multiple factors, but just barking out that your client needs to get the kids to school is not a particularly astute way to produce a favorable outcome.
However that works out in practice, the larger point here is that I need to fulfill the role of diplomat and answer the concerns of both sides. Anymore than it won’t do to just tell the prosecutor (or Judge) that the client needs a break because she is a single mom, it won’t do to go back to the client and say that being a single mom, standing alone, doesn’t give us a whole lot of bargaining power (i.e., social capital). Even if I wind up with Persecuting Pete as the Prosecutor and get Judge Heartless presiding over the case, I have to know how to explain this so that the client fully understands the situation. Fortunately, I am rather good at what I do, so I can usually find a way to get to Persecuting Pete on a good day, and get old Judge Heartless to make an exception.
Being a woman facing a DUI brings in concerns that just aren’t there for men. There is a fear of social stigma, a sense of not being up to par as a mother (or daughter, or wife, etc.), and a concern for the future that is just different for women. As gender roles change, things change. I have had a lot of female DUI clients who are engineers, which is a profession usually associated with men. I have also handled DUI cases for men who have chosen nursing as a career. Even so, a DUI is just different for a woman than a man. She will have concerns he doesn’t. I may not be an expert in them, but one cannot deal with an issue one does not recognize in the first place.
My office doesn’t offer any kind of “special” approach to DUI cases for women other than being cognizant of the concerns women bring to the table, and understanding how things can be “different,” both from the inside and the outside, when a woman has to deal with a drinking and driving charge. The best advice I can offer anyone looking for a lawyer is to do your homework. Read the articles various lawyers have authored. Read their websites and “listen” to the voice in their writing. While I may not be in line for a Pulitzer prize, I have personally written every word on my website and blog. Accordingly, you can come to know me through what I’ve posted. Most of all, pick up the phone and call. Whoever answers your call in my office is always the director of first impressions. When you call, you’ll understand exactly what I mean, and you’ll be glad you called. We can be reached Monday through Friday, between 8:30 and 5, at 586-465-1980.