January 17, 2015

March Madness III- Choosing an Attorney

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The Aztecs run has come to an end, to the disappointment of Mort and many other San Diego State fans. To get more substance into this post, we will drop the narrative for now and focus on the attorney question.

The search for an attorney is very unique and often a surprise- not many people plan on getting a DUI. Nor are people educated in the effects of alcohol to realize they may be at risk of getting a DUI and therefore be prepared. Instead, the need for an attorney comes quick- compounded with the 10 day requirement, in California, to contact the DMV for a license suspension hearing.

Focusing on San Diego, there are many very good DUI attorneys, and many bad ones. The difference is significant, as many issues may not be known to attorneys that simply use DUIs to generate fees, and are not dedicated to the study of DUIs. Once the money is in, the People's deal is sold to the client by the attorney. In the alternative, an attorney that studies DUIs digs into the nuances and enjoys the minute differences.

It can be relatively easy to spot the bad attorneys, and a successful marketing campaign is not the hallmark of a good one. Bad DUI attorneys generalize cases in terms of how good they are- like magic- compared to the general DUI case. Or, they use scare tactics, high pressure sales techniques, or generally degrade trust in the profession. Low stated fees or manipulative payment plans should also be looked out for.

There are also high profile defense attorneys that do not focus on DUIs that do not give them the highly technical and scientific attention they deserve. Like much of the general public, they believe that DUIs are a lost cause, and look to negotiate a settlement, or encourage the defendant to settle. Think celebrities in this category- how often are their cases broken down into the nuts and bolts of constructing a good case. They don't- they simply plead guilty (again, the norm but there are local exceptions).

Scare tactics - focusing on the loss of a driver's license, tens of thousands of dollars in fines, incarceration up to 6 months or a year, restitution payments, and general shame and fear-should be avoided. Coupons are sometimes employed by these attorneys or benefits if you sign by a certain amount of time. If you recognize the sales tactics as those offered by a car salesman, or any type of sales scheme, beware. For instance, one potential client said an attorney he was interested in said prices would go up at the end of the month, so he needed to decide in one day. Unlike a national sales dealership, it is the attorney himself who decides prices- and creates imaginary deadlines.

Among the reputable attorneys, it is important that you click with the attorney. That is, like most professionals, they have different temperaments, strategies and defense philosophies. Some DUI attorneys hate law enforcement officers and have a general disdain for the criminal process. Some are more concerned with "getting along" and not being seen as a bad guy. The difference may matter, as an aggressive attorney may get good results, or also may not curry any favors when one may be available. Similarly, the "get along" attorney may not get as good offers because they aren't aggressive enough- they may have a reputation of not going to trial.

Trial. Trial is seen as the hallmark of a true DUI attorney- not afraid to go to trial. However, there is a flipside to this approach. Any attorney can take a case to trial, and many DUI attorneys that concentrate on going to trial do so often, but never win. It does not take a lot of talent to lose a jury trial. Some attorneys focus on trial and state that they will go to trial without the client even being present. Nothing compounds a formula for loss more than a jury not being able to humanize the DUI defendant. Finally, attorneys don't highlight the good deal they turned down to go to trial and the client ended up with a worse sentence after losing.

Summarizing the information, it is important to meet with your prospective attorney. Take full advantage of the free consultation and ask a lot of hard questions. Beyond trial, how many jury trials have they won? Beyond scare tactics, what is the standard punishment for a DUI? If a larger firm (larger is 3 attorneys), how much time will the senior attorney spend with the case? Will you have access to the senior attorney after you hire him or her, or will your questions be relegated to a new attorney or case manager?

A lot of trust goes into the Attorney/Client Relationship. The client must be prepared to ride out the case with the attorney they hire. They can switch, but that is paying double the price for the same services. Look for sincerity, confidence, and an honest assessment of their case. Every DUI is different, and any generalizations should also be suspect. Because of the difficulty of DUI cases, it is important to be comfortable with your attorney. Even if the result is the same, a client with a good attorney can feel confident in their handling of the case and the exhaustion of remedies in reaching resolution.


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The acronyms DUI, DWI, OMVI and OVI all refer to the same thing: operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The most commonly used terms are DUI, an acronym for Driving Under the Influence, and DWI, an acronym for Driving While Impaired.
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