When you or a loved one receives a traffic citation or summons, from a minor infraction to a class 1 misdemeanor like DUI/DWI, Reckless Driving, or Driving While Suspended, it is important to know what to look for when choosing a traffic attorney that is right for you. If you contact different attorneys, you will find there is a broad range of legal fees depending on which firm you select; and paying more money does not mean you are getting better representation in court. I have highlighted a few factors that I think are important in helping you to make your decision.
Attorney/Client relationship: When you are considering who to choose, you need to consider how accessible the attorney is. When you contact the attorney, are you speaking with a paralegal, legal assistant, or the actual attorney who is handling your case? Does the attorney return your emails and calls in a timely manner? You want to make sure the attorney who represents you keeps in contact with you and answers your questions/concerns.
Price: Some firms charge really low fees, and others charge really high fees. You will find there is a broad range of fees when you consult with different attorneys. Any quoted fee should be reflective of the complexity of your matter. If you are charged with a DUI, second offense within five years (which carries mandatory jail time) you should expect to pay more than if you stand charged with a first offense DUI with a low blood alcohol content. Likewise, you should expect to pay LESS for a reckless driving by speed charge at 81 mph in a 70 (generally not going to carry jail time) versus a reckless driving by speed charge at 110 mph in a 70 (where jail time is a near certainty).
If you are charged with a class 1 misdemeanor and someone quotes a really low fee, I would question how much work that attorney is going to put into the case. I see firms that handle a very high volume of cases. In my experience, really low fees combined with high volume means less personal attention that the firm can put into your case. And the representation naturally suffers. Recently, a representative of one such firm incorrectly told the judge that their client’s charge carried a mandatory jail sentence of ten days. And the client was sentenced to ten days in jail! Unfortunately, this attorney was wrong. The charge did NOT carry mandatory jail time. Perhaps if the attorney had spent a little more time understanding the law, their client would have received no active jail time.
Likewise, if an attorney quotes a really high fee, I would want to know why the fee seems so out of line with other attorneys. Any quoted fee should reflect the difficulty in handling your case, and the personal attention the attorney will spend on you and your case. If someone quotes a really high fee in relation to the complexity of the matter, I would question the reason for the high fee. Really low fees, and really high fees may be a red flag that you are not getting the best representation.
Experience in the particular court your case is in: It is important that you choose an attorney who has experience working with the clerks, the deputies and police officers, the prosecutors, and most importantly the judge who will hear your case. You will want to find out how much experience the attorney has in a given court so they can advise you accurately as to what to expect.
Honest representation: No attorney can ethically guarantee a result. You do not want to select an unethical attorney. I tell prospective clients my honest evaluation of their case. If I think it is a tough case, I will advise the prospective client honestly and make recommendations to improve their chances of getting a good result.
Experience trying cases: You want an attorney who has experience actually trying cases. Trying a case means pleading not guilty and putting on a full trial. Not every case should be handled this way for various reasons. Many times the client admits guilt, and sometimes a cost/benefit analysis shows it is not worth it to try the case because you can get a great outcome without putting on a full trial.
However, there will be cases where there is a legal defense, or the record or facts are so bad that the best way to proceed is to try the case. You want to find an attorney who has particular experience trying your type of case. There are many attorneys in traffic court who I have never seen actually try a case. Don’t be afraid to ask any prospective attorney about their experience trying even a simple speeding ticket. Ask them how you challenge the radar/lidar. Ask them what code section governs the admissibility of radar/lidar. If they cannot answer basic questions like these, then it may be an indication of a lack of experience. Ask them how many cases they have had fully dismissed after a real trial (dismissals after traffic school don’t count since that is not a real trial).
The bottom line when choosing any attorney is that you must be comfortable with the representation. You should be comfortable with the attorney/client relationship you are entering into, you should be comfortable with their experience and competence in handling your case, and you should be comfortable with their fee.