I have been writing about the ongoing changes in how criminal and DUI cases are being handled, both by the courts and our office, as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. Things have, quite literally, been evolving on a daily bases. Even though procedures are still in flux, people are definitely getting more comfortable with the use of video in legal matters, both in the office and the courtroom.
Although there are trade-offs, the convenience factor of using video really can’t be overstated. This ability for a person to “be” in any court from the comfort of one’s own home seems like a great thing, but there is one huge concern I have about it that is the basis for this article: I have always been a strong advocate for hiring a “local” lawyer for a criminal or DUI charge. Here, in the Metro-Detroit area of Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and the surrounding Counties, “local” essentially means the “Greater-Detroit area.”
Up until recently, travel time was the main impediment to a lawyer taking cases all over the place. This is undoubtedly why lawyers pick a spot to open an office, and expect their practice to grow in that general geographic area. A Grand Rapids lawyer will usually stay within his or her general area, as will lawyers from Traverse City, Lansing, and Metro-Detroit. Our firm generally does not go to courts on the west side of the state, or up north. On the flip side, we don’t run into lawyers from Grand Rapids or up north in the courts around here, either.
A beneficial and inevitable consequence of traveling in the same geographic circles, and appearing in the same courts all the time, is that a defense lawyer really gets to know how things are done in them. This goes beyond simply knowing procedures (although not knowing a court’s procedures can be awkward), and extends to knowing the best way to accomplish things in a particular court and how to produce the best results in any given case.
By being able to conduct business by video, a lawyer from one side of the state can sit in his or her living room and have a virtual “meeting” with and be retained by a client from the other side of the state. With just a few clicks and zero travel, both of them can then “appear” for a case in the UP.
I don’t think that’s a good idea. My team and I pride ourselves on achieving superior results because of our knowledge and direct experience in the courts where we regularly handle cases.
I’m fond of saying that when you hire a lawyer, you should be paying for his or her experience handling your kind of case in the place where it’s pending, NOT his or her tuition to learn either (or, worse yet, both) of those things.
A little explanation about us will be helpful for me to get to the larger point of this article:
Our driver’s license restoration practice is not only state-wide, it’s country-wide. We handle Michigan restoration and clearance appeals for people no matter where in the world they live. These cases are not “local,” and many of our clients come from out-of-state. In fact, we have represented people who, because of military or work assignments, live entirely outside of the United States.
In that capacity, we are contacted by people facing things like criminal, OWI, or indecent exposure charges just about every day. The very first question we have for anyone who reaches out to us for one of those matters is “where is your case?”
Lots of people find our site or blog, like what they see, and then reach out to us. By asking where a person’s criminal or DUI case is pending, we can quickly determine if it’s pending somewhere we go, or not.
If so, then great. If not, then we tell them so, and, if we can, make a referral or provide a helpful suggestion.
We are very lucky to be busy enough that we can afford to do that. Plenty of lawyers have no economic choice but to take just about every paying case that comes their way. I certainly travelled a lot farther for court 25 years ago than I ever would now.
Even the most willing-to-travel lawyer, however, has to weigh things and do a cost-benefit analysis, because there is a point where a particular case is just too far away to make it worth his or her time.
What’s missing from this calculation is the fact that one of the key benefits a lawyer should bring to the client is his or her repeat experience in that court, and with that client’s kind of case.
And here’s the kicker: that’s WAY more important than anything else.
Let’s be blunt here: if you’re looking for a lawyer for a criminal or DUI case, the ONLY thing that matters is finding someone who can produce the best results possible in your case. That will usually not be some some lawyer who isn’t otherwise a “regular” where your case is pending.
Because we can use video now, some of the formerly more obvious markers of geography have disappeared, and the temptation for some lawyer to take a case in a place where he or she couldn’t or wouldn’t drive to is a lot greater, given the ability to do it all remotely.
As it stands now, potential clients don’t have to consider driving to some distant lawyer’s office for a meeting, and the lawyer, in turn, doesn’t have to consider the time spent traveling to or from a far-away court. On top of that, everyone is hurting for money right now, so it’s not a stretch to think that some lawyer who previously wouldn’t have taken a DUI case in a court that’s 100 or more miles away would suddenly do so.
Anyone looking for a lawyer, therefore, should keep the whole “local” aspect of this at the forefront of his or her mind, especially at this time.
There are 2 simple questions that a person should always ask any lawyer he or she considering, assuming the answer isn’t already obvious:
First, are you familiar with this court? and,
Second, do you handle cases like mine there regularly?
The answers to these questions should likewise be simple. Let’s go back and use our practice as an example: if someone facing a DUI charge in the 52-3 District Court in Rochester was to ask those questions of us, our answers would be, yes, and yes.
If, however, someone was to ask us that question about a DUI case in Lansing, our answers would be no, and no.
The reader should ask those questions, and if the answer to them isn’t a straightforward yes or no, meaning if, instead of a direct response, you get a lot of fast talk that doesn’t include a simple “yes” or “no,” then what you’re hearing is BS.
The simple fact is that a lawyer is either a regular in a certain court, or not.
I know that if I was facing a criminal or DUI charge and looking for a lawyer, I wouldn’t consider anyone who couldn’t give me a clear and simple “yes” answer to both of the above questions.
If you are looking for a lawyer for either a criminal or DUI case, be a good consumer and do your homework. Make sure any lawyer you’re interested in does, in fact, regularly handle your kind of charge in the court where your case will be decided.
Read around as much as you can. Examine what lawyers have written, and pay attention to how they explain your kind of case, and how they explain themselves. When you’ve done enough of that, start checking around.
If your case is pending anywhere in the Greater-Detroit area (meaning Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and the surrounding Counties), 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 either 248-986-9700, or 586-465-1980.