Hiring a Private DUI Lawyer to Handle Drunk Driving Charges

Helpful information and tips for your DUI attorney search.

By , Attorney

Driving under the influence (DUI) is a serious offense that carries severe penalties. And there can be long-lasting consequences of having a DUI conviction on your record such as increased insurance rates and employment limitations. So, if you've been arrested for a DUI, there's a lot on the line.

To make sure your rights are protected and you don't end up making matter worse than they already are, it's always a good idea to have a qualified DUI attorney looking out for your interests. This article covers some basic information about hiring a private DUI lawyer and helpful hints for your DUI attorney search.

Private DUI Attorneys, Public Defenders, and Representing Yourself in a DUI Case

Generally, when you're charged with a DUI, you'll have three options for legal representation:

  • hiring a private DUI lawyer
  • requesting a public defender (court-appointed counsel),
  • and representing yourself.

Here's a quick rundown of each option.

Self-Representation: Don't Act as Your Own Attorney in a DUI/DWI Case

It's basically never a good idea to represent yourself in a DUI case. When you're facing criminal charges and serious consequences, it's best to have an attorney who knows what they're doing representing you. Although you could potentially save a few dollars representing yourself, the results of doing so can be disastrous.

Public Defenders: Court-Appointed Lawyers for DUI/DWI Charges

Anyone who's charged with a criminal offense and can't afford an attorney is eligible for court-appointed counsel. In most areas, the public defender's office is in charge of representing indigent criminal defendants.

Public defenders generally have lots of experience handling DUI cases. So, although having court-appointed counsel has its drawbacks, the public defender is typically a good option and certainly better than representing yourself.

Private DUI Attorneys: Hiring Your Own Lawyer for a Drunk Driving Case

Hiring a private DUI attorney comes with a number of benefits. Some of the main benefits of hiring your own DUI lawyer include:

  • Control over the choice. Most people like the idea of choosing their own attorney. Public defenders are generally good in DUI cases. But when you go with the public defender, you don't have much say in who your attorney (from the public defender's office) will be—you get who you get. When you hire an attorney, on the other hand, the decision of who to hire is all yours.
  • More freedom in deciding when to come to court. When you're represented by a public defender, you generally have to show up for all court dates. With privately hired counsel, your attorney can typically handle most court dates without you being present.
  • Representation in DMV administrative proceedings. When you're arrested for a DUI, it generally marks the beginning of two separate proceedings: criminal court proceedings and administrative DMV license suspension proceedings. Administrative DMV proceedings can lead to license suspension regardless of what happens in criminal court. So it's good to have an attorney representing you in both criminal court and DMV proceedings. A private attorney will generally do just that and have you covered for both proceedings. But public defenders can represent you only in criminal court.

These are probably the most noteworthy advantages of hiring a private DUI lawyer. However, every situation is different. To some extent, the benefits and drawbacks of hiring a lawyer will depend on your specific circumstances, including financial resources and the laws of the state.

How Much Does It Cost to Hire a DUI Lawyer?

Because private attorneys set their own fees and every situation is different, it's impossible to say how much it will cost to hire a DUI lawyer. However, here are some of the basics about private attorney fees.

Types of Fees DUI Attorneys Charge

DUI lawyers generally use one of two types of billing: flat fees or hourly rates. It's also possible that an attorney might use a combination of these two billing systems.

Whatever kind of billing an attorney uses, you should understand clearly what you'll be paying and how the billing works. Most attorneys provide this information to clients with written fee agreements.

Flat Fees for DUI Representation

With a flat fee, the client just pays a lump sum amount. Generally, attorneys who charge flat fees will specify in a written fee agreement exactly what the flat fee covers.

In many cases, attorneys will charge clients a flat fee amount for pretrial representation and an additional flat fee amount if the case goes to trial. For example, an attorney might charge $2,500 for pretrial representation and a trial fee of $5,000.

Because most cases settle before trial, the client will generally just pay for pretrial representation with these types of incremental fee arrangements.

Hourly Rates for DUI Lawyers

Attorneys who charge hourly rates bill the client for each hour of work they do on the case. Hourly rates vary quite a bit but generally run from around $100 to $400.

The primary factor that affects hourly rates is years of experience. More experienced attorneys tend to charge higher hourly rates than attorneys who are newer to the practice of law.

Generally, attorneys who charge hourly require clients to pay an initial retainer fee. The attorney then bills against the retainer for hours of work completed on the case. For example, an attorney might ask for an initial $10,000 retainer to start work on a case.

How Do You Find a Good DUI Attorney?

There's no formula for finding a "good" DUI attorney, especially since personal preference plays a big part. But here are some tips that can help with your search.

Find Attorneys Who Handle Lots of DUI Cases

When you start your search, try to narrow it down to attorneys who handle lots of DUI cases in your area.

Any experienced criminal defense attorney should be able to handle a DUI case. However, many attorneys focus primarily on DUI cases. Attorneys who regularly represent DUI defendants should be up-to-speed on DUI law and will likely be able to give a good assessment of the available options and likely results. Familiarity with the law and the tendencies of local judges and prosecutors goes a long way.

Take Advantage of Free Initial Consultations

Most attorneys offer prospective clients a free initial consultation, either over the phone or in person. Once you find an attorney you think might be a good match, set up a consultation. By taking advantage of free consultations, you can get a better idea of which attorney is right for you.

In preparation for consultations, it's a good idea to put together a list of questions you want to get answered. You'll also want to have all documentation related to your case handy.

Talk to Several Different DUI Attorneys Before Deciding

In most areas, there are lots of DUI attorneys. So it doesn't hurt to talk to a few attorneys before hiring someone. If you're unsure about the first attorney you talk to, talk to a few more attorneys.

How Soon After a DUI Arrest Should You Hire an Attorney?

Although you don't want to be hasty in hiring a DUI attorney, you also don't want to delay too much.

When you're arrested for a DUI, prompt action is often necessary to protect your rights. For example, to preserve your right to fight the suspension of your license, you'll typically need to request a DMV hearing within a week or so of your arrest.

So, following a DUI arrest, you should start searching for an attorney as soon as possible.

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