The other day, I was in a local Oakland County court for a DUI case and found myself in the company of a bunch of rather well-know, top-shelf lawyers, several of whom were also there to handle drunk driving charges, as well. I looked around and noticed that the most of the people in the courtroom did not look like the crowd that would be be using court-appointed or bargain priced lawyers. Although the usual socio-economic cross section of people showing up to deal with a drinking and driving charge usually runs the gamut from low to high-income, this was definitely a more well-heeled crowd. As I thought about the somewhat unusual experience of seeing so many good lawyers in one courtroom at the same time, I realized that this particular group of DUI driver’s had the means to hire “up” and find some relief in knowing that they’d be taken care of in the best possible way. Busy people with a lot to lose need an attorney they can trust to take care of everything and produce the best possible outcome. This should really be the goal of everyone facing a drinking and driving case, and is certainly the expectation of anyone stepping up to hire a blue-chip DUI lawyer.
As individuals go, there are some who are very much “detail people.” I am certainly one, and I certainly attract a lot of them to my practice by doing things like publishing this blog with 2 new articles each week. I get into and discuss details to the very ends of reasonableness. There are some things that are just too much to explain and too legalistic or technical for the layman to really grasp, so I don’t venture that far in my various analysis. For a real-life example of what I mean, as I write this, my own vehicle is at the dealership undergoing a warranty repair for an oil leak of some kind discovered when I brought it in for an oil change. The service manager took me into the garage to show me the how things looked while my vehicle was up on the hoist, and the mechanic gave me a general explanation of what went wrong and the needed repair, but he didn’t explain which part they were going to remove first, how they were going to clean and repair the various parts, and then how the new part or parts would be installed and everything put back together. That’s just too much information, and it goes way over my head. I trust the dealership to know what to do, and I go to them because I want to turn my vehicle over to someone who can just take care of everything for me. I appreciate the security of knowing that I’m in good hands. So, in the same way, should anyone who puts in the effort to find and hire a top-shelf DUI lawyer.
Exactly where to draw the line with that really depends on the client. Given my personality, and in my role as a DUI lawyer, I cannot help but also be an explainer. I’ve never been the kind who just takes someone’s money and then says “here’s the deal.” Instead, I like to have an informed client who understand exactly what we’re doing along the way. In fact, plenty of people retain me over the phone (it’s kind of easy to get to “know” me through all of my writings) and I make it a point to get them into my office as soon as feasible so we can go over the details of their case. Some people, however, need a lot more of my time and have a lot more questions than others, and that’s okay, because I really am the right guy for that. I have been incredibly successful at this long enough to be able to indulge those whom might test another lawyer’s patience to the limit while also making sure that even the most unconcerned person gets a full understanding of what we’re doing. That requires a fair balance of diplomacy and strength because it basically means, on the one hand, telling someone who is asking ridiculous questions that enough is enough, while on the other hand, getting and holding the attention of the person who figures that his or her required participation ends by handing me money. And it’s not that I feel “special” for this, because when you think about it, these are essential, if not really minimum qualifications of a good lawyer.
A first rate lawyer will want to spend quality time with his or her clients. I strongly believe that it is important to really get to know the client and his or her concerns, because who you are as a person matters in a DUI case. Also, you’d be surprised at all the important little details there are in a person’s story that generally don’t get picked up in the usual lawyer-client exchange of rapid-fire question and answer. My first meeting with a new client usually takes around 2 hours. I want to learn who my client is as an individual. I actually have little Matchbox sedans and police cars on my conference table, and we will use them to illustrate exactly how the client was pulled over or had that first police contact, and what happened thereafter. When you learn about a client’s life, you not only learn what he or she thinks is significant, but can also pick up on things that the person him or herself may not grasp as bearing directly on something else of importance to him or her. This is where you need the certainty of knowing that you can turn things over to your lawyer and that he or she will take care of everything for you, including the things you don’t even know about, or don’t understand.
One of the first steps in a DUI case is gathering and examining the evidence. This is crucial. Everyone wants to be “that case” where the evidence is compromised and gets thrown out of court, and although those situations are the exception, you will NEVER find anything to challenge unless you first look for it. As a general rule, I get a copy of the in-car police video in my DUI cases because even if it doesn’t show the police botching the case, or the client doing a stellar job on the field sobriety tests, we at least proceed, as in most cases, knowing we didn’t miss any such jackpot, and otherwise have the surety of moving forward on an informed basis. There is no shortcut to doing things right. You should know that your lawyer is doing everything for you, and doing it correctly. This means not wasting your money on needless work, but it also means not overlooking anything, either. To be sure, it’s easy to get roped into paying way too much in legal fees, but the other side of the coin is that you will never get a high quality of representation that you don’t pay for. It’s not just that you can’t get a top-notch level of representation from the bargain lawyers as much as they don’t even know how to give it in the first place. Even if Daddy Warbucks walked into the discount, flat-fee lawyer’s office and made clear that money was no object, that type of legal operation has no experience beyond being an assembly-line, high volume practice that makes its money on the quick turnover of cases.
Yet for all the evidentiary issues that may or may not exist in any given set of circumstances, unless it gets thrown out of court, the absolute, undisputed key to obtaining the best outcome possible in a DUI case is doing as well as possible on the legally-required, written alcohol screening test and the interview with the probation officer. By law, the probation officer must score your alcohol screening test (the test generates a numerical score and your total is charted using a scoring key) and also use the information he or she gathers from you in order to formulate a written sentencing recommendation that must be sent to the Judge and considered before you are sentenced. In fact, this step in the DUI process is SO vitally important that it was a significant reason that, years after earning my law degree, I completed a post-graduate program of addiction studies. When it comes to the court screening a DUI driver for an potential alcohol problem, no lawyer can protect you better than me. In fact, and I’m sorry if this sounds cocky, when I walk into any courtroom, I have the confidence and self-reliance of knowing that I am the foremost expert on alcohol and drug issues in the place, period. In a DUI case, your relationship to alcohol is and always will be the key issue until the day you are discharged from probation. If you don’t have a problem, then you need to be shielded from the court’s built-in alcohol bias, otherwise you’ll wind up having to go through and pay for unnecessary classes and counseling. And for those whose relationship to alcohol has become troublesome, I can help you sort through it and get the kind of help you need and to which you will respond, rather than just telling you to go to AA and/or giving you a card for some clinic and saying, “Call them,” or otherwise letting the court grind you through whatever faceless, nameless programs it uses for everyone, regardless of whether it’s a good fit or not.
Ultimately, there will come a time when you stand before the Judge for sentencing. This is NOT the moment to wonder if you hired the right lawyer, or if you should have spent more for a better one. I’ve never sat in court and been impressed by the guy with the ponytail, or the unshaven guy who wears an outfit of beat-up shoes, wrinkled shirt and a cheap tie under a rumpled sport coast with bulging pockets. Here again, you can get suckered and pay for some sharpie who merely looks the part of a top-notch lawyer, but you will almost never find a great lawyer disguised as some Schlub who sleeps in his car with his suit on.
And as much as appearance matters, it’s even more important that your lawyer is a gifted speaker. The voice of the lawyer is the only thing, at that point, that stands between you and an unfortunate result. You can get a good idea of how a lawyer “sounds” by reading articles like this. For my part, I pretty much speak the way I write. It would be foolish to deny that my writing makes me a better speaker and my speaking, in turn, helps me be a better (or at least more conversational) writer. When addressing the Judge, your lawyer needs to be charismatic and persuasive. Marketing tags like “aggressive” and “tough” may be useful, at times, like when negotiating with the prosecutor, but they don’t help you when you’re in front of the Judge. You don’t argue with the Judge. Instead, you need the kind of speaker who can sell snow to Eskimos.
In a roundabout kind of way, we’ve examined the attributes of a premium lawyer. As I noted at the outset, when a person has that level of representation, they can breathe a sigh of relief and know that nothing will be missed, that their lawyer has handled similar cases countless times before, knows the court, and has decades of experience and knows exactly what to do. If you have to face the discomfort and uncertainty of a DUI, then you should at least have the comfort and certainly of knowing that your attorney will take care of everything for you.
If you’re facing a DUI charge anywhere in the Greater Detroit area and are looking to hire a lawyer, be a smart consumer and do your homework. Read articles. When you’re ready, call around, then call my office. All of my consultations are done over the phone; I believe in convenience, not high-pressure tactics. You can find us standing by, ready to help, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., at 586-465-1980.