If you’ve been charged with driving under the influence in Florida, you know that you need the assistance of a DUI lawyer, but you may not know how to go about selecting one. When considering how to pick a DUI lawyer, you may not feel comfortable asking friends, coworkers, and acquaintances for referrals. That’s understandable. After all, you’re under no obligation to share your private difficulties with others.
When you can’t turn to others for referrals, the next logical move is to start scanning Florida DUI lawyer websites. But it’s next to impossible to tell the best from the rest by simply perusing a website. That’s why it’s important to resist the temptation to go with the first firm that looks legitimate. The bottom line is that your future is in their hands. Your DUI lawyer’s knowledge and skill can influence whether or not the charges stick, whether or not you spend time in jail, and whether or not you are forced to pay sizeable fines. In other words, there’s a lot riding on your choice.
The key to asking the right choice lies in asking the right questions. When you set up a consultation with a Florida DUI lawyer, you should be prepared with thoughtful queries that provide you with the knowledge you need to make an informed decision. The following tips will help you navigate your initial consultations.
Do Your Research
When you face DUI charges, you’ve gone through the fraught experience of being arrested and booked. That experience may fuel your urge to quickly select an attorney, but it’s important to approach the process with a clear head. Prior to your initial appointment, do your research. Take time to review the attorney’s (if they’re a solo practitioner) or the firm’s website. Look at their practice areas and see what they have to say about representing clients who have been charged with driving under the influence. Review the attorney profiles and discover where the attorneys attended school and where they are licensed to practice.
Your research can – and should – take you beyond the firm’s website. There are a number of legal websites – like Avvo and Martindale – that have attorney information. The Florida Bar Association website provides a snapshot of an attorney’s law license and whether or not the attorney is in good standing. You can check on the Better Business Bureau website to gauge the firm’s BBB rating and accreditation status. In addition, there are any number of review sites that may have comments about the firm. It’s important to take review sites with a grain of salt, however, since not all reviews are legitimate, or they may tell only one side of the story.
Your First Questions
Armed with the information you gathered during your online research, you are prepared for your initial consultation. If any questions cropped up about the attorney’s education or track record, feel free to ask them. In a sense, your consultation is like a job interview where you are asking questions of the candidate you’re seeking to hire.
After your initial questions, you want to get specific about their experience with Florida DUI charges. It’s perfectly appropriate to ask them about their background and experience representing people who have been charged with driving under the influence. While it’s unusual for a firm to only handle DUI cases, it’s reasonable to expect that a firm of criminal defense attorneys has represented plenty of clients facing DUI charges. You may wish to ask how many DUI clients the firm has represented in the past month or the past year, as well as the outcomes they were able to achieve. Every client and every case is different, so their past results might not be applicable to your case. However, you will be able to get a sense of their confidence and their ability to get results.
Diving into Your Circumstances
Once you have answers to your preliminary questions, it’s time to dive into the circumstances surrounding your case. You should be prepared with any paperwork you might have received about your upcoming court date and your driver’s license. You should also be ready to provide the attorney with information about your criminal history and a basic outline of your interaction with law enforcement at the time of your arrest. For example, be prepared to talk about any field sobriety tests given, any blood, urine, or breath tests conducted, and so forth. While the attorney you hire will be able to access the police and laboratory reports relevant to your case, they want to hear what you experienced.
After sharing your information and your story, it’s appropriate for you to ask questions specific to your case. You might inquire, for example, if they have represented clients whose cases were similar to yours. If so, follow up with a question about the outcomes of those cases. You can ask what the attorney believes are the possible outcomes for your case, as well as what factors work in your favor and what factors work against you.
Next, you can question the attorney about their philosophy toward cases involving driving under the influence. You might, for example, ask them which outcomes they would think of as a “win” and ask them to explain their reasoning. They would certainly consider getting the charges dropped to be a win, as would getting an acquittal at trial. Depending on the circumstances of your case – such as prior convictions, injuries, or property damage – they might also consider a favorable plea negotiation to be a win. It’s important to understand their unvarnished perception of your case so that your expectations can be in alignment with the outcome they believe they can achieve.
You may also want to game out different scenarios. For instance, you can talk to the attorney about whether or not they think the evidence in your case can be suppressed. You can inquire under what circumstances they would conduct an independent investigation, and when they would recommend a plea agreement. You should ask about the possible penalties – probation, jail, fines, license revocation – involved in different scenarios. In other words, it’s important to be clear-eyed in understanding the potential results of your case.
Discussing Elements of Case Management
When thinking about how to pick a DUI lawyer, case management might not cross your mind. That’s understandable, since it may be the first time that you’ve been in the position to hire a Florida DUI attorney. If your consultation is with a law firm (as opposed to a solo practitioner), it’s important to ask who will be handling your case, and if the same attorney will be handling your case throughout the legal process.
Given the stakes involved in a DUI conviction, you want to be kept in the loop. Therefore, asking about their communication practices is perfectly appropriate. Will they contact you via phone, email, or text? How often can you expect to hear from them? How available are they to answer your questions?
DUI cases tend to follow a set rhythm, and the attorney should be able to outline the timing of the various steps. For example, your case may have an arraignment, a pretrial phase, motion hearings, and a trial phase. It may have an investigative phase and a plea negotiation phase. It’s important to understand the typical rhythm so that you can know what to expect.
Delving into Costs
Defending against Florida DUI charges does cost money, so during your consultation it’s reasonable to ask about attorney fees and other charges. You can ask whether the firm charges an hourly fee or a flat fee. If they charge an hourly fee, they likely bill at different rates for different staff members. For instance, the amount billed for a paralegal’s time is less than the amount billed for the attorney’s time. It’s typical for a firm to ask for a retainer fee upfront, against which the billed amounts will be subtracted. Ask about the amount of the required retainer, what forms of payment the firm accepts, and whether they offer payment plans.
While you’re discussing fees, make sure to ask what the firm’s fee includes and what is not included. For instance, filing fees and other court costs might not be included. Expert witnesses, court reporters used for depositions, and appeals might not be included. Again, you’re gathering information so that you won’t be caught unawares at a later date.
That said, it’s important to keep in mind that bargain shopping for a Florida DUI attorney is likely a mistake. You’re seeking the best possible outcome, not the cheapest representation.
Lather, Rinse, Repeat
Once you’ve run the gauntlet of consulting one firm, it’s straightforward to repeat the process with another firm. It’s perfectly acceptable to obtain case evaluations from two or three firms prior to making your decision.
After your consultations, you should have the information you need to select a Florida DUI lawyer to represent you. You should have details about each attorney’s perception of the potential outcome for your case, how they propose to manage your case, and what you can expect in terms of expenses. You will probably have a sense of which firm best aligns with your sensibilities and comfort level. Then, you can retain that firm, which will move forward in creating a rigorous defense that challenges the charges against you.
How to Pick a DUI Lawyer in Seven Steps
To summarize, you can pick a Florida DUI lawyer by following these seven steps:
- Online Research: Prior to arranging for a consultation, research firms online. Look through the firm’s website, the Florida Bar Association website, the Better Business Bureau website, and online review sites. Note any questions or concerns that arise.
- Initial Questions: During your consultation, start by asking about the firm’s experience in representing clients facing Florida DUI charges and what outcomes they were able to achieve for those clients.
- Outline Your Case: Explain the circumstances of your case to the attorney and provide them with any relevant court documents or other paperwork.
- Ask for Their Opinion: Ask them, based on the information you provided, what they anticipate the outcome might be and what their strategy will be to achieve a favorable result.
- Case Management Questions: Ask what you can expect in terms of communication from the firm and how it relates to the rhythm of your case as it moves through the criminal justice system.
- Cost Questions: Ask whether they charge an hourly fee or a flat fee, what is included in their fee, what other charges you can expect, and the amount of their required retainer.
- Consult One or Two Additional Firms: Once you’ve spoken to two or three firms, you can evaluate the information provided to arrive at the firm that’s the best fit for your case.
If you are ready to talk to a Florida DUI lawyer, Meltzer & Bell is available 24/7 for a free, no-obligation consultation.