7 Traits to Look for When Hiring a DWI Attorney in New Jersey
By Peter Lederman, Esq.
If you’ve been charged with driving while intoxicated, whether it’s your first offense or third, you know it’s a bewildering time.
You feel ashamed, embarrassed and scared. You’re worried about your license, your career, your family. You have a lot at stake.
The most important decision you make following your arrest is who you choose to represent you.
In my 40 years in practice I’ve seen many good DWI lawyers in action. But I’ve also seen some shady ones who take advantage of their clients. And with more and more New Jersey attorneys marketing themselves as DWI specialized it’s becoming confusing for accused drivers to make an informed choice.
To help you in your decision making process I’ve put together a list of seven traits to look for in a DWI attorney. I hope this list will empower you to hire an advocate who has the ethics and passion to represent you properly and get you the best result possible, without adding more stress to this time of crisis.
To find the legal counsel right for you, look for a NJ DWI lawyer who:
- Doesn’t promise a result
In my practice we never say, we can. We say, we’ll do our best. There are so many variables, from the circumstances of your arrest, to the town where you were charged, to the prosecutor bringing the case, that giving a predetermined outcome is impossible. Don’t believe an attorney who says otherwise.
- Relies on experience (not who he knows)
A lawyer who has good relationships within the court and police systems is good for your case. Judges, court personnel and police officers are more receptive to an attorney with a reputation for being honest and respected. Even the demeanor and reputation of lawyer’s staff can have an effect when it comes to scheduling with the court. But none of that is going to win your case. Be wary from any lawyer who says he will use a relationship to get you a result.
- Doesn’t demand his entire fee upfront
When you retain a lawyer it’s customary to give an initial down payment at time of retainer. But beyond that the lawyer should not try to trap you into an agreement. In my practice I am the only one bound by agreement to my client. That means at any point they can disengage and only have to pay for the hours worked on their case.
- Lays out the risks and rewards of your case
A lawyer is your advocate, but he or she is not the decision maker in your case. A good attorney will lay out the best and worst case scenarios you face and enable you to make the most educated decision. After all, it’s you who has to live with the result.
- Has excellent communication (and a responsive staff)
If you’ve retained a lawyer (or are vetting one) and your calls are not being returned, that is a bad omen of things to come. Every one of my clients gets a call back the same day. Even if it’s my assistant calling to say I’m in court all day and that I won’t be able to speak to them personally until tomorrow. On the same note, legal assistants who are ornery or can’t answer basic questions about the court process are a red flag. About 10 percent of my practice is taking over cases of lawyers who didn’t meet client expectations. Lack of, or poor communication, is the number one complaint I hear from clients about why they left their lawyer. This is a time of crisis for you and you should expect a staff that can answer your questions and calm your fears.
- Offers straight forward pricing
A lawyer who gives you a price for service and then turns around and increases the fee when it looks like the case will go to court is not someone I want representing me. A client of mine had a previous attorney who promised him the world and then when they got to court turned to him and said, “You should take the deal. If you want to go to trial it’s going to be another $1,000.” A good DWI attorney will clearly lay out his or her fees ahead of time. There should be no surprises or price shifting. My clients know that for a flat fee I will see them through, from consultation to trial.
- Offers a free consultation
It’s common in criminal practices to charge up to $500 for a consultation. DWI law practices are different. A lawyer with passion and experience will sit down with you, for free, and help you evaluate your case, whether you choose to hire him or not. When you meet with an attorney, it’s your only chance to tell your side of the story because as a driver, you don’t usually go to the stand. I sit with every potential client for an hour and a half and listen to their story. Together we go over the facts in their case and I show them exactly what they can expect, before I ask for a decision to retain me.
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