How Do I Find a Top Michigan DUI Lawyer?

For many people, finding a top Michigan DUI lawyer can be a confusing and difficult task. A task made no easier by the multitude of available choices. For example, a Google search for “top Michigan DUI Lawyer” returns over ten million hits. When including lawyer directories such as Justia and AVVO, there are many dozens of so-called top Michigan DUI lawyers on the first page alone. How is it possible to pick the right lawyer?

To begin with, there is no substitute for a professional referral. If you have used a lawyer in the past for something like drafting a will or the sale or purchase or your home, then you might think about contacting them for a referral. Even though you might be embarrassed, remember that everything you discuss with your lawyer will be held in strict confidence. Once your referral source has provided you with one or more names, you can then cross-check them by looking on Google. The DUI lawyers at the Barone Defense Firm obtain most of their clients from referrals.

If you’re not able to obtain a professional referral, then after doing your initial Google search, and narrowing it down to a few names, be sure to cross-check the lawyer’s names on the various lawyer review sites. The most reliable lawyer review site is AVVO, and this is partly because they carefully inspect all reviews before they are posted to confirm they are legitimate.  Also, AVVO allows anonymous lawyer reviews, which increases the likelihood that a DUI client will post a review for their lawyer. However, AVVO reviews are only anonymous on one side. A person must provide identifying information to AVVO before they are allowed to post a review.  This way AVVO can vet the review and determine if the person was a “real” client before they will allow the post.

In addition to lawyer reviews, many lawyers post sample cases. This is another excellent place to look and helps give you an idea of how a potential DUI lawyer candidate will handle your case.  But how do you know the sample cases are real? Lawyers are obligated to provide accurate and honest information on their websites, and regarding lawyer advertising, are ethically forbidden from saying anything that is false, fraudulent or misleading.

Once you have looked at a DUI lawyer candidate’s client reviews, and have checked out their sample cases, the next thing to consider is their credentials.  In order to truly be a top Michigan DUI lawyer, a lawyer must have demonstrated their leadership in the specialized area of DUI law. Such leadership comes in many forms and can be demonstrated through the following credentials.  A lawyer that possesses some or all these credentials is almost certain to truly be a top Michigan DUI lawyer:

Authorships – A lawyer who is also an author of books or legal journal articles on the topic of DUI defense has demonstrated that they are also subject matter experts. Not all books are equal, and many books are self-published rather than published by reputable sources of legal materials. Such reputable sources include the top publishers of law books like James Publishing and Thomson Reuters Aspatore Legal Books.  Reputable legal journals include Michigan Bar Journal, the SADO Newsletter and the Champion Magazine.  The Michigan DUI lawyers at the Barone Defense Firm have published in all of these sources.  Mr. Barone is the author of a two-volume legal treatise entitled Defending Drinker Drivers. First published in 1986, Defending Drinking Drivers is an indispensable resource for DUI lawyers around the Country.  Mr. Barone has also written several chapters for Asaptore’s “Inside the Minds” series on DUI defense.

Law School Adjunct Professor: The adjunct law school faculty is made up of practicing lawyers recognized as being the top legal authorities in their particular areas of practice. Teaching also requires great communication skills and requires that the adjunct professor to stay on top of the field.  In 2006, Barone Defense Firm founding partner, Patrick Barone was recruited by the Western Michigan Cooley Law School to teach a course he developed specifically for them entitled “Drunk Driving Law and Practice.” In this course Mr. Barone teaches aspiring lawyers about the Michigan DUI laws as well as the science of breath and blood testing. There is also a DUI trial skills portion in this class where Mr. Barone teaches law students the nuts and bolts of a DUI trial.

Other Academic Appointments. Law schools are not the only kinds of academic appointments available.  Look to see if your Michigan DUI attorney candidate is an editor of a publication or is on the faculty of any criminal law or trial practice colleges?  The Michigan DUI lawyers at the Barone Defense Firm have held faculty positions with NCDD, BAC Tracker Software and have taught at the Gerry Spence Trial Lawyer College. Mr. Barone also offers psychodrama trial skills training to other lawyers through the Michigan Psychodrama Center. And Mr. Barone was the editor of the Whitaker Newsletter “The DUI Journal: Law and Science.”

Continuing Education Seminar Speaker: As with book publications and professorships, lawyers that each other lawyers are typically at the top of their game. It is fair to conclude that if a lawyer is training other lawyers then he/she is a recognized expert in the field. When deciding if your candidate is a top Michigan DUI lawyer look at their accomplishments and see if they have ever spoken at a DUI defense seminar.

Specialized Membership or Professional Affiliations. All Michigan DUI lawyers must be members of the Michigan State Bar. All other professional memberships are voluntary.  Even though membership in professional organizations focused on DUI defense often only requires an application and a fee, membership still suggests a commitment to higher learning.  Look also for sustaining memberships and leadership positions. Review your Michigan DUI lawyer candidate’s resume to determine if they are members in any or all of the following: The Michigan Association of OWI Attorneys, the Gerry Spence Trial Lawyer’s College (TLC), the National College for DUI Defense (NCDD), The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), and the American Society of Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama.

Attendance at Advanced Training Seminars.  Even lawyers that teach and write books need to stay on top of what is happening in the field of Michigan DUI defense.  Defending allegedly intoxicated drivers is one of the most complicated areas of practice and attending seminars is a way to get fresh ideas.  At a minimum you should look to see if your DUI lawyer candidate has obtained certifications for Standardized Field Sobriety tests?  Also look for advanced training in infrared spectroscopy (breath testing) and gas chromatography (blood testing).  With today’s emphasis on drugged driving, another important certification is ARIDE and the “DRE” (drug recognition expert) programs?  One final thing to look for is being a graduate of the Gerry Spence Trial Lawyer’s College. And because psychodrama is the bedrock of the Gerry Spence method, look for a lawyer with significant psychodrama training. The Michigan DUI lawyers at the Barone Defense Firm have all this training and more.

Disciplinary Actions. With the internet it is now easier than ever to determine if a lawyer has ever been disciplined for an ethical violation? The last think you want is to get involved with an unethical lawyer!  One clue to a lawyer’s ethics is whether they use a written and detailed fee agreement. It is important to know exactly what you’ll be charged and what’s included in the fee. This prevents a lawyer from “bait and switch” where they charge a low introductory fee, then keep asking for more money along the way. Also, believe it or not, some lawyers fail to use written fee agreements, and require cash payments, so they can avoid paying taxes.  If your DUI lawyer candidate refuses to put their fee agreement in writing, or insists on only cash payments, run the other way!

Focus of Practice. Top Michigan DUI lawyers will either restrict their case load so that they only handle intoxicated driving cases or make DUI cases most of their focus. This is another thing that’s easy to check on AVVO because they have a pie graph where each lawyer can indicate how much of their practice is devoted to each area of law.

Years in Practice – There is no substitute for experience. Just like all these other credentials it is easy to check how long your Michigan DUI lawyer candidate has been practicing law.  This is clearly listed on the Michigan State Bar website. Unfortunately, it’s more difficult to determine how long a lawyer candidate has actually focused on DUI defense. As other areas of practice have become more competitive or less lucrative, many lawyers have moved into DUI defense from other areas of practice.  For example, a lawyer may have been doing divorce law for 20 years and only switched to DUI defense last year.  While their year of admission might be 22 years ago, they’ve actually only been doing DUI defense for two years.  One way to cross-check this would be to look at dates for other credentials. When did the DUI lawyer candidate first join a DUI related defense organization, or when did they publish their first article or book?

Deciding who to hire for a pending DUI case is no easy task.  However, defending a DUI is also no easy task, and yet, the potential consequence for hiring the wrong lawyer can be severe.  Once you’ve vetted the DUI lawyer candidate using the above guidelines, call their office and speak to the lawyer and his/her staff.  Pay close attention to how you are treated, and how they make you feel.  You aren’t just hiring a lawyer your hiring a relationship and at the end of the day, you want a lawyer who can be a strong advocate and counselor.

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