In this multi-part article, I want to examine 11 things to consider as you go about hiring a lawyer after being arrested for an OWI offense. A DUI is serious, but rather than adding more academic (boring) or useless (self-promoting) drivel to what’s out there, I thought we could at least make this interesting. To do that, we’ll examine the 11 “R’s” of finding a Michigan DUI lawyer: 1. Relax, 2. Read and learn, 3. Recognize who you are and what kind of lawyer is right for you, 4. Rate those legal skills that are important to your case, 5. Resolve your budget, 6. Reject the meaningless slogans, 7. Resist buying into what you want to hear, 8. Remain skeptical, 9. Realize what’s really “different,” 10. Rank the lawyers by what you need, and, 11. Reach out to those who actually “speak” to you. Although there is an order to how I go over these topics, each section does, for the most part, stand on its own, and can be read individually.
To the extent it’s relevant, I will focus on OWI cases in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne Counties, where I concentrate my practice as a Michigan DUI lawyer. Most of the time, a person arrested for a DUI is held in jail overnight, and then released the next day, often with various papers (these include, among other things, a temporary driving permit, a bond receipt, a property list and a citation, or ticket) and some instruction to either contact the court, or just wait to be contacted. Most people aren’t at their best when all this goes down, and often don’t remember exactly what they were told. If you hire a DUI lawyer, like me, you don’t have to worry about all this stuff, because it will be taken care of for you. Chances are, though, you’re still freaking out a bit.
While you shouldn’t rush into any decisions too quickly, neither should you wait too long to get going on this and at least start looking for a lawyer. Although it’s not important to hire a lawyer immediately, don’t sit on this until the very last minute, either. In the real world, people tend to either rush to hire the nearest lawyer, or else they wait until the 11th hour to start looking. Neither is the best way to go about this, but even if you haven’t taken care of this as timely as you should have, don’t compound your problems by running to the first lawyer who calls you back, or getting desperate enough to call one of those “phones answered 24 hours” operations. The first thing you need to do is relax.
Relax. This really is the first point to be made: just relax. Seriously. A Michigan OWI charge is nothing to laugh about, but it’s not life-threatening, either. You’re not going to die over this, and most of the things you fear the most won’t ever come to pass, anyway. If it’s your first DUI, then, with the possible exception of one district Judge in Oakland county, understand that you are not going to jail. Thus, if you’re scrambling to do whatever it takes to keep yourself out of jail – STOP. Jail isn’t on the menu here. There is no point in getting all worked up about something that’s not going to happen.
If this isn’t your first DUI, then you should know, by experience, that a well-planned strategy is your best defense. Whether you’re now facing your 1st, 2nd or even 3rd offense, you won’t get any benefit from stressing out. When you think about it, the best thing to do is to react intelligently. Blind stress helps nothing. It’s normal to be nervous, but you have to consciously slow down, take a few deep breaths, and then start figuring out how to make the best choices and decisions for yourself. This may sound corny, but it’s not. Once you feel calm enough to move forward, your next step should be to read and learn.
Read and learn. The reason that you should “relax” is so that you can figure out what to do. The best way to learn about anything is to gather information. The internet, as you have probably already discovered, is loaded with stuff about DUI’s. I chose those words carefully, because not all of that “stuff” qualifies as information, or at least useful information. You must become a savvy consumer. We could examine this subject forever, but the short version is that there is a lot of BS out there, so you’re going to have to figure out how to spot and ignore that first. Beyond simple BS, every lawyer (yes, including me) has an agenda and is engaged in some degree of self-promotion. Even my blog and site, which are loaded with real DUI information, are focused, as I noted at the outset, on cases pending in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne Counties, where I practice. Of course, everything I discuss is covered by Michigan law, and, in that sense, is applicable state-wide, but when it comes to how things are done in court, because I handle DUI cases in the Tri-County, Metro-Detroit area, I can only really explain how things play out here.
Thus, as a seeker of information, you have to learn to read critically, and to really “read between the lines,” so to speak. Nevertheless, the more you look at, the better. Skip the “Call Now!” stuff, and, instead, read more, then call later. In many cases, the more you read, the more you learn, and the more questions you come up with, as well. It is certainly true that the more you learn, the more you realize there is to learn. To stop this from becoming overwhelming, you should take a moment and recognize who you are, and what kind of lawyer will be a good fit for you.
Recognize who you are and what kind of lawyer is right for you. No matter who you are or what the facts of your case, things will go better when you hire a lawyer who is a good fit for you. As a general observation, it’s worth pointing out that there is a substantial difference between a DUI lawyer and some lawyer who merely “does” DUI cases as part of a larger criminal or even general practice. It would be ridiculously easy for me to take this opportunity to say something like, “look no further…” or “hire me,” but as I’ve already noted, I concentrate my DUI practice here in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne Counties, so that wouldn’t really apply to anyone outside the Greater-Detroit area, anyway. Always keep in mind that no one lawyer is the right lawyer for everyone. You, as a person, need to figure out who you want. Sure, it’s easy to think “I want the best,” but finding the best lawyer for you is like finding the best pair of jeans to wear; some look great on the shelf, but aren’t a good fit. Some are just plain cheap, while others are way overpriced. You may look great in a pair expensive designer jeans, or you may look like an idiot. You have to think about what works with and for you as a person.
That said, there is nothing much to be had from a cut-rate lawyer. On the flip side, however, handling a DUI case is not the same thing as performing open-heart surgery, so you shouldn’t get screwed over by excessive legal fees, either. Over the years, I have encountered tons of lawyers who charge way in excess of their skill and value. We’ll talk about money later, but for now, just know that you shouldn’t pay too much, and you shouldn’t pay too little.
Some lawyers, like me, are explainers, while others are not. After finishing my undergraduate degree in Psychology, I went through law school. Thereafter, I completed a post-graduate program of addiction studies. I use the knowledge I acquired from my post-graduate program every single day, both as a Michigan DUI lawyer, and as a driver’s license restoration lawyer. Unlike my geographically concentrated DUI practice, I handle Michigan license restoration cases for people no matter where they live in this state, the whole country, or even the world at large. License restoration appeals are for people who have lost their privilege to drive after having racked up multiple DUI’s. To win back a license, a person must prove that he or she has quit drinking for good and has the tools and commitment to remain sober for life. In a DUI case, the law requires that a person be screened to assess his or her relationship to alcohol, and that a sentence be fashioned to address any risks or problems with that relationship. In both DUI and license appeal cases, then, the person’s relationship to alcohol is the main focus.
These are things that have to be explained to the client, the prosecutor, and the Judge. Explaining is one thing, but doing it well is another. A person can be very nice and helpful, but too timid to drive an outcome. On the flip side, some people are simply too brash and too “in your face” to be effective. In order to successfully handle DUI case and get good results, a lawyer has to be able to explain like a professor, lead like a General, and do it all like a diplomat. These are not shoes that can be filled by either a loud blowhard or a squeaky little mouse. A good lawyer is a good speaker; a good counselor is a good listener. I always thought it better to be both.
It is in my nature and my background to analyze and explain things. This makes me a good fit for the kinds of people who have lots of questions, and who are interested in doing those things that can help produce the best outcome in their DUI case. To understand what I mean, contrast that kind of client with someone who feels that he or she is way too busy to deal with a DUI. This kind of person will do just enough reading to find some lawyer who markets him or herself to that kind of client. It is unlikely that the these types will ever sit across from each other and go over the case step by step, like I do. This kind of lawyer will probably never get an email at 9 or 10 at night from that kind of client asking a question, of for clarification of something. I can’t imagine a night going by without having to respond to someone’s email.
Whatever the practical implications of such an approach (that’s a nice way of me saying it sucks), the larger issue is that such a client has the kind of lawyer he or she wants every bit as much as that lawyer has the kind of client he or she wants. In that sense, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I know that I certainly wouldn’t mesh well with that kind of client. I want someone who takes his or her situation seriously, and who wants a lawyer that takes it seriously, as well. This defines my whole approach to DUI cases. In my office, for example, whoever answers the phone is usually able to answer your questions right then and there. If not, then you’ll get a prompt response. I work better with the detail people and the concerned, even nervous types.
If you are the “I’m too busy for this” kind of person, then I’m not your guy. If you are the nervous type and/or the kind of person who has questions, then you probably won’t be happy with the lawyer whose staff isn’t involved in your case and only takes messages. Although it’s not the only criteria, one of the most basic ways to identify the lawyers who are more patient and inclined to explain and answer questions is to read what they write. I’ve written a lot, and publish 2 new articles every week on this blog. By contrast, when a lawyer’s website mostly talks about how good he or she is, then you’re probably not going to find the person behind it especially interested in addressing your questions and concerns. Once you have an idea of what kind of client you are, and what kind of lawyer you’re looking for, then you can rate those legal skills that are important to your case.
We’ll stop here, and come back in part 2 and pick up by looking at how you rate those legal skills that are important to your case.