What Are the Qualifications I Should Be Looking For In A DUI Attorney?
A lawyer or a DUI attorney also known as a drunk-driving lawyer or drunk-driving attorney is someone defending you because you got arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or for being over a .08 blood-alcohol level. The first thing you want to find is someone who knows what they are doing; that means someone who is experienced. I have over 31 years of experience defending DUI cases and I do DUI Defense exclusively. There are only a handful of us that do DUI exclusively. Most attorneys who do DUI cases also do all sorts of criminal cases. Assault cases, drug cases, robbery cases, kidnapping or murder; they will take it. What you get by hiring an experienced DUI lawyer, who does 100% DUI work or 95% DUI work is someone who is honing their skills constantly.
It’s like hiring a doctor who’s a specialist; a brain surgeon instead of a general practitioner. You want to find someone who knows the law, who knows the local courts in the area, who is used to and has practiced there a long time. Someone who knows how the system works, knows the law, knows how to run motions and win motions. Someone who will go to a jury trial if that’s what it takes to win your case. You want someone who has a very good reputation. Look on AVVO.com find a lawyer who has a top ranking and don’t just look in the county where you got arrested; look in other counties. They’re not always listed for every county but it is important to find someone who is a member of the California DUI lawyers association or CDLA.
The Attorney Should Be a Member of Organizations Such as NACDL or CDLA
Also make sure they are a member of the National College for DUI Defense. That is the most prestigious organization in the country and probably in the world for defending those accused of DUI’s The conferences and the LISTSERVs they have they keep people up to speed on the changes in the law. That stuff is critical. There are only a couple of them now; there is a new one which is coming up, the National College for DUI Defense is the long standing one. I have a member of that for a number of years and know most of the top DUI lawyers all over the country because of that. I meet them at conferences and these are lawyers who teach other lawyers how to do things. Find the lawyer who other attorneys send cases to when their clients get arrested for DUI’s.
That’s the type of lawyer that I am. Someone who is well known in the community, well respected in the community, someone who has no dings on their record, someone who does not have a State Bar reprimand or punishment and someone who has not been penalized by the State Bar. You can look any lawyer up on the California Bar website and scroll down and see if they have been disciplined by the State Bar of California. At AVVO.com, look at the clients who have left recommendations, read what the clients say. Some lawyers will put stuff on there that doesn’t sound like actual clients and you can pick those out. Between the attorney’s website and that site, they’re focused on DUI defense. There’s a lot of other sites that have ratings and reviews about restaurants and things like that.
It is Important to Retain a Lawyer That Has Considerable Experience in Defending DUI Cases
Something like yelp is not the best place for reviews because a lot of clients won’t leave reviews there because they want to be anonymous. They want people to know that they got a DUI and yelp is not necessarily anonymous. Also people can’t leave reviews there, they won’t post them there if the clients moves out of state or they aren’t local. It doesn’t look like someone local is reviewing a local business. It’s not the place I would recommend. You could read the reviews, but it’s not a strong as the AVVO site. Another thing you can do is ask the lawyer for the other lawyers who can tell them something about that lawyer. Any lawyer who has a problem with that, you don’t want to hire them because it sounds like they are hiding something.
If anybody calls me and asks me to name 2 other lawyers that tells me that I can call you with references. Calling old clients is not necessarily something that lawyers like to do because of confidentiality reasons, so a lawyer has to be careful when giving client’s names. The experience is important; someone who is five to seven years out of law school is not going to have the experience of someone who has 15 to 20 years or more of experience. Someone who is getting up there may not have the energy that someone who has been doing it for 40 years may have. You also want to make sure the lawyer you hire is the lawyer who is defending you.
There are a lot of small firms where you’ll hire one lawyer and someone else will do the whole case. From the initial consultation to the end of the case, I do everything. If I need someone to stand in to continue something or if I am somewhere else when their first court appearance is, I will have another lawyer continue that appearance or appear for me and do nothing but say, “Mr. Bortel is coming in as counsel and setting a new court date”. When it comes to setting a DMV hearing, conducting the hearing or motions in court, negotiating with the DA or dealing with the judge, dealing with the clerk’s offices or the DA’s office or conducting the jury trial if the case goes to jury trial; you want the lawyer you hire to be the one who’s representing you.
It is Imperative that the Hired Attorney is the One Representing You in the Courtroom
You should have a contract in writing, and the name on the contract should be the lawyer who is representing you. You need to make sure you feel comfortable with them. That’s critical, if a lawyer called you back quickly, that’s a good sign or called you back and said, “I am in a meeting”, or “I am in court and I am going to call you as quick as I can” or “I am going to try to call you at this time. Does that work for you?” That’s a good sign. That lawyer cares about you even before he has met you. Someone who has the office call and can’t get back to you in a couple of days, that’s not a good sign unless that lawyer is in the middle of a jury trial. Then you have a lawyer who can have a few minutes with you in the evening while they are taking a break but you can expect it to take until they are done with the trial to be able to sit down with you either over the phone or in their office and do a full consultation. That’s a sign of a lawyer who’s probably a good lawyer because most of the lawyers who go to jury trial are the better lawyers.
They get a lot more respect and they get better offers. So make sure that the lawyer has gone to trial and goes to trial each year and is someone who knows how to fight a DUI case. Those are the main things you want to look for. It’s hard for people who have never hired a lawyer before or dealt with a lawyer to know how to tell one from another. How do I know if this one is better? You have got to trust your instincts but also look at their credentials and their experience. Do they actually have an office? Do they have a main office or are they working out of their house? There are a few very good lawyers who have a virtual office but they have been doing this for 30+ years and they can make it work. Having an office is a good sign and if you can, visit them at their office.
The Lawyer Should Personally Communicate with All Potential Clients
If you live in the San Francisco Bay area and you get a DUI in the San Francisco Bay area, go to that lawyer’s office and meet them in person to see if you’re comfortable with them. A lot of lawyers may ask for your credit card number in that first phone call before you have said that you want to hire them. Hang up! They just want to know if you have enough money to pay them. The lawyer’s job is to help people and obviously it is a business and they need to know at some point that you can pay their fees but within the first 5 or 10 minutes, the cost is not something that should be coming up. Asking questions about the facts of the case, giving you a consultation on what they think about it is what’s important. Talking about money should be reserved for the end of the conversation.
Obviously it’s important but it should not be first thing out of their mouth. They only want to talk to you for five, ten maybe fifteen minutes and then they’re trying to get you off the phone as they’re busy. You don’t want that lawyer. If someone’s not willing to talk to you for a half-hour to an hour or may not be able talk for that long over the phone, then they tell you, “I have got this on my schedule but I am more than happy to call you back later in the day or at some point tomorrow to finish our conversation” or “If you want to come to my office, let’s talk there.” If they are rushing you off the phone, that’s not someone who is going to give you the time of day when the case is going on either.
By Aaron Bortel
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