What you should know before you hire an attorney

Choosing a DUI Lawyer



In the United States, over a million drivers every year are charged with DUI or its local equivalent (DWI, OUI, etc.) A DUI conviction can carry serious consequences including jail time, fines, suspension of your driver’s license, community service requirements, alcohol education classes and other penalties. A criminal record could also deny you employment, professional licensing, and other opportunities.

Being charged with DUI is not necessarily the end of the story, however. It is not usually wise to “just plead guilty and get it over with,” because a skilled and experienced lawyer might be able to win you a favorable plea bargain or even an outright acquittal. Selecting the right lawyer requires a great deal of care, however. Following are some of the qualities you need to look for in a DUI defense lawyer.


What to look for in a DUI Attorney

Extensive criminal law experience

Not all lawyers are created equal. You wouldn’t hire a cardiologist to remove a brain tumor, would you? Likewise, you shouldn’t hire a corporate lawyer or an estate planning lawyer to defend you against a DUI charge. Your lawyer should practice mostly criminal law, with as much DUI defense experience as possible.

Extensive courtroom experience

Your lawyer needs experience defending people in court, not just negotiating plea bargains. It is true that most criminal charges are resolved through plea bargains rather than actual trials. Without experience winning in court, however, your lawyer will lack the bargaining power to negotiate a favorable plea bargain for you.

A strong local track record

It is not enough for your DUI defense lawyer to be licensed to practice in the state where your charges were filed. He should have years of experience practicing locally. Local connections matter, and a local attorney will be more familiar with individual judges, prosecutors and courts than a lawyer from out of town will be.

A local DUI defense lawyer will also be more aware of the nuances and idiosyncrasies of the local legal system. He might, for example, be more aware of which negotiating tactics work better with which prosecutors, which judges are more defendant-friendly, how long your case may take, and other important matters.

Real Professional Credentials, Not Resume Padding

Many lawyer and law firm “credentials” are worthless, and some can actually be purchased. The following three credentials, however, cannot be purchased and are widely recognized as both authentic and highly competitive:

  • Best Lawyers in America®
  • Martindale-Hubbell® A/V ratings®; and 
  • US News® America’s Best Law Firms®

Strong Academic Credentials

Academic credentials aren’t everything, but they do matter. What is the reputation of the law school the lawyer attended? Did he make the law review? Was he inducted into an honor society? Has he ever been appointed an adjunct or visiting professor? Academic credentials signify intellectual ability, drive and commitment.

A history as a DUI prosecutor

Has your lawyer ever worked as a DUI prosecutor? If so, this is a huge plus. Former DUI prosecutors typically enjoy extensive jury trial experience. Furthermore, they understand how the minds of DUI prosecutors work, both inside and outside of court. It is not uncommon for DUI prosecutors to switch sides and work as DUI defense attorneys, because defense attorneys typically make more money than prosecutors do.

Other Questions to Ask

Following are a few of many potential issues that might affect the quality of your DUI defense representation:

Generally speaking, DUI-oriented law firms that advertise extensively often run high-volume, low-reputation practices. This is not alway true, but it usually is.

In many firms, especially larger firms, the lawyer you speak with will not be handling your case — instead, it will be delegated to “the junior guy” and perhaps a paralegal.
This intangible factor is among the most important, because it will affect every aspect of your case. Unfortunately, it is also among the most difficult to confirm.

Personal characteristics of a good DUI lawyer​

Following are some of the most important personal characteristics of a good DUI lawyer. Although you might not get the opportunity to observe many of these qualities unless you know the lawyer personally, you might look at online client reviews to get a handle on the lawyer’s reputation.


A good DUI defense lawyer must be honest with you about every aspect of your case, including how long it is likely to take and what your chances of success are. A lawyer who simply tells you what you want to hear, for example, could indirectly encourage you to reject a plea bargain that would have been in your best interests.

Research Skills

Your lawyer must be skilled at researching both facts and law. He needs to know how to uncover information about your case that the police might have missed, and he needs to be able to find case precedents that could be favorable to you.

Negotiating Skills

A great many DUI cases are resolved through plea bargaining, and plea bargaining is all about negotiation skills. You might not qualify for an outright acquittal, and if you don’t, you will need to seek the most favorable possible plea bargain.

Oral and written communication skills

Your attorney must be a skilled communicator. He must be persuasive in person, and he must be a master of the written word.

Street Smarts

Your lawyer should be able to think, react, and make decisions quickly. He or she should also be the type of persona you “can’t put anything over on.”

Good courtroom demeanor

Your DUI defense lawyer must have good courtroom demeanor, including a commanding presence and a theatrical flair. If it is possible to observe a public trial where he will represent a client, by all means do so.

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