In part 1 of this article, we began an honest inquiry of how much you should pay for a DUI lawyer. We looked at how much we charge in my office, and how that includes everything it should, but nothing unnecessary, either. In part 2, we saw that building trial fees into the price almost never makes sense, and then we began discussing what is the most important part of any DUI case that doesn’t get thrown out of court – the mandatory written alcohol screening process.
While the alcohol screening test is important, there is more to it than just completing a written questionnaire. In addition to being “screened,” everyone going through the DUI process will also be interviewed by a probation officer, who must also gather comprehensive background information about the person, as well as a clear picture of the DUI itself, and the events surrounding it. If you’re getting the idea that the probation officer is a key player in all this, then you’re following exactly as you should be.
Thereafter, using the “results” of the alcohol screening test, along with all the other information he or she assembles about the person and the DUI incident, the probation officer must come up with a written sentencing recommendation that is forwarded to the Judge and advises him or her exactly what kind of measures to take (like ordering an alcohol educational program, or counseling, or even treatment, if he or she thinks it’s warranted) along with what penalties to impose.
Here is really where the rubber meets the road, and you can take this to the bank:
Almost every Judge, in every court, follows the probation officer’s sentencing recommendation VERY closely, if not exactly as it is written. You will simply never find a Judge who deviates, in any wholesale manner, from what his or her probation department has recommended by way of a sentence in a DUI case.
Thus, the written sentencing recommendation is essentially a blueprint for what’s going to happen at sentencing – period.
Moreover, the entire court system buys into the idea that “it’s better to be safe than sorry” when it comes to sending DUI drivers to things like education, counseling or treatment programs. Because of that, every sentencing recommendation includes at least some kind of educational or rehabilitative component.
The practical result is that Every a person going through an OWI will wind up being required to at least something by way of education or counseling.
In a perfect world, the result of the whole screening and interview process would be a recommendation by the probation officer that is actually a good match for the person and his or her needs.
However, we don’t live in a perfect world.
In fact, even in the private sector, it’s often hard find the right “match” for a person’s relationship – whatever that may be – to alcohol and/or drugs. This is true even if a clinically reliable screening indicates that a person would be best serve by either education, counseling, or more involved treatment.
In the real world, the kind of measures that ultimately works for people dealing with any kind of alcohol or drug issues is often not the first thing they try.
By contrast, in the court system, a determination of “need” is made based upon its much more abbreviated screening process, and what amounts to a very much “one-size-fits-all” educational and/or treatment recommendation is made. Almost without exception, whatever is recommended by the probation officer is followed by the Judge.
Although it is critically important to be able to specifically address these issues, stand up to alcohol bias, and argue against unnecessary rehabilitative and treatment measures, just being a lawyer, or even DUI lawyer, isn’t enough to do that successfully. These aren’t purely legal issues.
Years ago, I realized that, to be as effective as possible in DUI cases, I needed to be able to address the clinical, and not just the legal side of things.
To do that, I went back to the University classroom and completed a post-graduate program of addiction studies. Although I had long been a student of substance abuse and recovery issues, this formal training provided me with a much deeper knowledge base from which to protect my clients in DUI cases.
Of course, this education is also directly relevant to my work as a driver’s license restoration lawyer, where a thorough understanding of the development, diagnosis, treatment of and recovery from alcohol and substance abuse issues is crucial. At the end of the day, I trust my own skill and training enough to GUARANTEE that my office will win every 1st time restoration and clearance case we take.
When it comes to talking about money, you either put your money where your mouth is, or not. We do.
Back in the DUI world, it has been consistently shown that, as a group, DUI drivers have a statistically higher incidence of alcohol problems than the population at large. Thus, every person who walks into court for a DUI does so as pre-ordained member of a specifically identified “at-risk” group. There is no way around this, other than to disprove it in any particular case.
This is a whole, huge subject in itself, and is so important that I have written multiple articles and dedicated an entire blog topic section to it, called the “alcohol bias.” The reader would be well advised to at least read part 1 and part 2 of the summary article on this topic, because they really examine this ultra-important thing that most affects what ultimately happens to a person in a DUI case.
The courts are always mindful, and never lose sight of the fact that, as a group, people who have had a DUI are more likely to have an issue with drinking than those who have never had one.
This is an undeniable, ever-present reality, and it’s foolish to not address it head-on.
This is why my team and I focus so much on this part of the process, and believe that everyone should be thoroughly prepared to complete the alcohol screening test, as well as undergo the interview with the probation officer.
The less it looks like somebody has, or is at risk to develop any kind of problematic relationship to alcohol the better. For everything else that can be said about this, the bottom line is that better (as in more lenient) sentencing recommendations produce better sentences.
If I haven’t made the point clearly enough by now, then let me repeat it here: the whole screening process and the sentencing recommendation that follows it is the most determinative factor in what will happen to any and everyone going through a DUI.
The whole court system is tilted toward the belief that DUI drivers are more likely to have, or to develop a drinking problem than people NOT facing a DUI.
The courts, therefore, are of the “better safe than sorry” mindset, and send just about everyone to some kind of education (classes), or, if they think it’s better, then to counseling or treatment. You’re better off avoiding as much of this as you can, but doing so requires being able to “test out” as NOT having a drinking problem, or being at risk to develop one, rather than just saying so.
No matter what, anyone facing a DUI is doing so precisely because of their drinking, at least on one occasion.
Therefore, as you consider how much to pay for a lawyer, and to whom, keep in mind that “beating” the case happens less than 7% of the time, but that the outcome of 100% of all DUI cases that don’t get thrown out of court is based primarily on the results of the screening and recommendation process.
Doing well on the screening test and at the probation interview matters more than anything else, period.
At the end of the day, when it comes to hiring a DUI lawyer, it’s not only how much you pay, but what you pay for. Pay too little, and you’ll get what you paid for. Yet hiring a high-priced trial lawyer may sound good at first, but unless you actually go to trial and win, you might as well have spent that money on prayer candles, for all the good either of those things will do in a DUI case.
Remember though, the biggest risk is paying premium fees for nothing better than average skills and run-of-the-mill results.
Still, we have to circle back to how much you should pay for a DUI lawyer. I think our fees are right in the sweet spot, but do remember what I said about the inherent self-interest in what any lawyer writes, including me.
That said, I could not afford to take on a DUI case for less than $3000, even for a good friend, simply because of the economics involved, like my actual overhead costs. I have 2 lawyers and 2 legal assistants on staff, so I have to be mindful of my hourly expenses just to keep the lights on.
My dentist once mentioned this to me, as he explained how frustrating it is for someone to complain about the cost of something like a crown. He pointed out that beyond his employee and fixed operating costs, he had to pay a hefty lab bill to have the crown made. The same kind of thing applies to any law firm.
This is why the person who works out of his or her house, and uses a cell-phone as a business line, can afford to charge less. Usually, though, once a lawyer has gained enough experience, he or she wants a more complete operation, including an office, conference rooms, equipment, staff, and someone to answer the phone during regular business hours all 5 days of the work week.
On the high side of what you should pay, I think that, for a 1st offense DUI (and not including trial fees), anything more than $4500 is too much.
In a 2nd offense case, (again, excluding legal fees for a trial), anything over $6000 is simply too high. By contrast, anyone charging less than $3500 either doesn’t know how much work is involved in properly handling a 2nd offense charge, or simply doesn’t do all the necessary work, and therefore doesn’t charge for it.
Finally, in 3rd offense, felony DUI cases, any fee over $10,000 (not including trial fees) seems patently unwarranted. On the flip side, I’d question the experience and understanding of any retained lawyer who would charge less than $5000 in this situation.
This, of course, is just my opinion. However, and for example, I truly believe that, when it comes to any 1st offense case we’d take, no lawyer could produce as good a result we could (especially anyone charging $2500) specifically because our focus on and ability to prepare our clients to do better on the alcohol screening and probation interview, given how that positively impacts the sentencing recommendation and the ultimate outcome of the case.
And while I don’t know of another lawyer with anything like the post-graduate training that I have, I also know that anyone dropping $4500 or more for a first offense DUI is not only paying more than they should be, and not getting anything for it, but is also coming up short as far as having a lawyer who can capably handle the alcohol bias and the realities of the court system’s prophylactic approach to counseling and treatment in all DUI cases.
It’s universally true that success in a DUI case is best measured by what does NOT happen to you. I pointed this out before, but it’s worth repeating: a better, meaning more favorable (read: lenient) sentencing recommendation always translates to a better outcome.
This should be a primary consideration as you decide which lawyer to whom you’re going to fork over your money, no matter the amount.
As I noted at the outset, and above everything else, there is simply no good reason to not take the time necessary to look around and be a good consumer. Although I’ve already made this observation within article, you should neither pay too little for a lawyer (you’ll get a lawyer, but probably not a very good one), nor should you pay too much. It is worth repeating, however, that while you’ll never get what you don’t pay for, you can VERY EASILY wind up paying premium fees for a mediocre lawyer.
In fact, that’s probably the biggest risk of all, as you look around.
If you are searching for a lawyer for a DUI case pending anywhere in the Metro-Detroit area (meaning Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and the surrounding Counties), take your time, do your homework, read around, and then check around. When you’ve done enough of that, give us a ring.
All of our consultations are free, confidential, and done over the phone, right when you call. My team and I are very friendly people who will be glad to answer your questions and explain things.
We can be reached Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., at 248-986-9700 or 586-465-1980.