For all the things we do as Michigan criminal, DUI and driver’s license restoration lawyers, our practice, like the practice of any good lawyer or law firm, is every bit as much defined by the kinds of cases we don’t handle as those we do. There’s an old saying that “you can’t be all things to all people,” but too often, this is ignored, especially by attorneys who offer a range of services that is simply too broad.
This applies to general field of “criminal law,” as well, with some “criminal lawyers” offering to handle every kind of charge, from driving with a suspended license (DWLS) cases, to rape and murder charges, all the way to post-conviction appeals. In the real world, the best lawyer to handle the appeal of a murder conviction is almost certainly not the best lawyer to have tried the underlying murder case itself, and he or she, in turn, wold be the wrong person to hire for a DUI case.
Better lawyers limit what they do in order to be excellent at a few things, rather than mediocre at many. This is exactly why construction companies use carpenters, electricians, and plumbers on their jobs, rather hiring a few “jack-of-all trades” handyman types to do the same work. Likewise, even though they’re both “surgeons,” it’s an orthopedic surgeon, rather than a cardiac surgeon, that does hip replacements.
People become better at something by doing it over and over again. Because my team and I concentrate our practice in a few limited areas, we have really honed our skills in them. We handle DUI and driver’s license restoration cases, and, along with that, most offenses that occur in or involving automobiles. Beyond driving offenses, our sphere of practice includes a few kinds of matters we handle all the time, like indecent exposure cases.
Due in part to my clinical background in addiction issues, we handle a lot of drug cases, and cases involving drinking issues that fall outside the DUI field. Also, and, for reasons that go beyond the scope of this article, we have developed a kind of avocation for embezzlement cases, along with 2nd and 4th degree CSC cases that do not involve penetration, or what is otherwise commonly thought of as “rape.”
Beyond not taking rape cases, we don’t handle murder charges, or anything that is a “capital” offense, meaning punishable by up to life in prison. Even in the DUI arena, we don’t handle OWI causing death charges. We do not handle and have never done criminal appeals. I wouldn’t even know where to start an appeal case…
Instead, we spend our days handing license appeals, OWI cases, most offenses arising from or during the operation of a motor vehicle (including suspended and revoked license charges), and things like indecent exposure cases, embezzlement crimes, drug violations and non-penetration related sex offenses.
As a result, we’re really good at what we do. In contrast to some lawyer who can say that of the 250 or so criminal matters he or she handled last year, there was a wide range of different kinds of charges, we can say that of the 250 or so DUI and criminal cases we handled last year, most were the same things over and over again, and done in the same courts.
Let’s go back to our contractor/builder example: a plumber who is asked to install a high end “X” brand sink with a pricey “Y” brand faucet may tell the homeowner that he’s done lots of those before, and the “Y” brand faucet doesn’t work well with “X” brand of sink, whereas the handyman, not having handled either brand before, simply won’t know that.
Worse yet, the handyman is going to get paid to learn all of this the hard way, just as a lawyer who “does” driver’s license restoration cases may very well be charging what amounts to tuition in order to learn – by mistake – some subtle nuance of the license appeal process already known to us simply because we do around 200 driver’s license restoration cases per year by limiting the concentration of our practice.
The day before this article was begun (I often start them several weeks in advance of publication date), we spoke with a person who, before plunking down the money for a license appeal, decided to call us to do some comparison shopping. Before I get into anything more, here’s a reprint (with name redacted) of the last email he sent:
Thu, Mar 12, 2:50 PM (1 day ago)
Thank you very much for taking the time to tell me the TRUTH about my situation. Saved me a lot of money hiring the wrong lawyer. I will be getting back to you at a later date when I’m actually eligible to get license reinstated.
J** ******** **
What had happened was that this person found some lawyer who “did” license restoration cases, and was about to pay a fee of $10,000 (without a guarantee, no less) before calling us, only to find out that we only $4200 for the same case, WITH a guarantee, and, more important, that he was NOT yet eligible to win (and would have absolutely lost) because, among other things, he hadn’t even been sober for a year.
In our office, we generally prefer that our clients have at least 18 months of sobriety before moving forward.
Sometimes, people get the mistaken idea that if some lawyer is a trial lawyer for serious matters like murder cases, he or she is somehow “better” for a less serious charge. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Let’s use 2 more examples to make this point:
An oral surgeon is about as far up as you can go on the dental ladder. They routinely cut into gums and remove impacted wisdom teeth. However, if a person needs cosmetic work done, like having his or her teeth capped in order to obtain a “perfect smile,” they’d go to a general dentist who focuses on cosmetic dentistry. While that general dentist may not know how to wield a scalpel very well, neither will the oral surgeon know how to properly cap the patients teeth for lasting beauty.
Similarly, an auto mechanic may concentrate in rebuilding and repairing transmissions, which is pretty heavy duty stuff, but he almost certainly is NOT the guy you want to repair and repaint your smashed-in driver’s door.
The point is that doing the heavy duty stuff does NOT translate into having any proficiency or any kind of superior skills when it comes to handling less “serious” matters. I used quotes there because for most people, facing a DUI or other misdemeanor charge is plenty serious enough.
That said, I can all but guarantee that some lawyer who is highly qualified to challenge DNA evidence in a murder trial is not the person to hire for a DUI case.
It would be disingenuous of me not to address the reality that many, if not most, of the lawyers who offer a very broad menu of legal services do it simply because they have to, economically speaking. I don’t think they’re being greedy, but are rather hungry enough for work to take whatever they can get.
Once a lawyer gets busy enough, he or she will generally stop taking the kinds of cases he or she doesn’t like.
Personally, I have no desire to handle an OWI causing death case, and fortunately, we are busy enough that I don’t need to even consider it. The same goes for murder or rape cases; I’m glad that there are lawyers out there to protect the rights of those accused of such crimes, but I simply have no desire to handle such matters, no matter what the pay.
However – and this is important – merely not taking cases in one area doesn’t make a lawyer better in some other area. By limiting the kinds of cases we take in my office, and limiting the courts where we take them, we get the benefit of accumulating extensive experience handling the same kind of matters in the same places.
This does not apply to license appeals, though, and to be clear, our driver’s license restoration and clearance practice is statewide, and, indeed, really nationwide.
At the end of the day, you’ll almost always be better served by a lawyer whose practice concentrates in kind of case you have, rather than some self-titled “criminal lawyer” who claims to handle everything from traffic tickets, suspended license violations, drug charges, DUI cases, domestic violence, home invasion, retail fraud, arson, bank robbery, all the way murder charges, and even appeals.
One last analogy will help me make my point: it has often been my experience that when a restaurant has a limited menu, it means that they do a few things really well. By contrast, when a restaurant offers every kind of ethnic dish under the sun, it usually means that none of them are real standouts.
When you hire a lawyer to help make things better in a criminal or DUI (or even driver’s license restoration) case, it’s far better have a standout instead of settling for less.
If you’re looking for a lawyer for a criminal or DUI charge, do your homework, and read around as much as you can. Read how lawyers explain things, and how they explain themselves, and how they do things. Be a smart consumer, and avoid anyone who would even suggest that you limit your research.
When you’ve read around enough, start checking around. All of our consultations are free, confidential, and done over the phone, right when you call. We are the only office I know of that publishes our fees on both our website and this blog. 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. (EST), at 248-986-9700 or 586-465-1980.