There are lots of expenses you can budget for. Christmas is on December 25th every year, so you can save up during the year for presents. But what do you do when you get hit with a DUI?

Let’s not kid ourselves – DUI attorneys can be expensive. And while court-appointed attorneys (“public defenders”) are an option, there’s a widespread misconception that public defenders are free for everybody. That’s just not true. People with very low incomes can get the fees waived, but everybody else who requests a public defender will get a bill from the government. Public defenders are definitely lower-priced than private-practice attorneys, but they’re not free to most people.

And the truth of it is, I used to do a lot of public defender work. I have friends who still do. Most of these people work very, very hard for their clients – but they’re frequently over-worked, always underpaid, along with managing an incredibly high case loads.  They also have to deal with many different types of cases on a day-to-day basis, so they don’t have the opportunity to focus their attention and trainings on a specific area of the law, like DUIs.

Which is why you should hire a private attorney.

When you hire your own lawyer, you can take some of those challenges out of the picture. When you hire your own lawyer, you can hire somebody with the exact experience you need. They’ll also have more time to understand your situation, explain things to you, and work with you to find the best outcome for your case.

If you’re looking for an affordable drunk driving attorney, whether you’re considering the court-appointed public defender or a private lawyer, consider these things (roughly in the order of importance):

Is the lawyer a specialized DUI lawyer? Despite what you see on TV, the “family lawyer” isn’t equipped to handle a DUI case. General criminal attorneys at least practice the right area of law, but unless they’re keeping up on the latest cases, rulings, and interpretations, they’re not going to be equipped to provide you with the best possible defense. You want a lawyer that specializes in DUIs. Find this out before even booking the consultation, if possible. The lawyer’s website should have this information, and you don’t want to waste your time meeting with lawyers that can’t help you!

What kinds of results have they been able to get in similar cases? Most people are tempted to ask, “what result can you get for me?” And that’s a valid question, but it can be answered one of two ways – by guesswork, and by experience. If you’re hiring a lawyer, you don’t want a guess – you want a DUI lawyer that’s been involved in many, many cases. They should be able to share the benefit of their years of experience, and then explain how your case is similar or different.

Does this lawyer charge by the hour, or by the case? Cases can be hard to estimate, but an experienced lawyer should be able to give you a price up-front to handle something like a drunk driving charge. A lawyer charging by the hour to handle a DUI case is signaling that they’re not sure what it’s going to take to defend you. If that’s the case, you should ask what about this particular case makes them uncertain. If they reply that “you never know”, you may want to consult with another lawyer!

How much is the fee? Even if being able to afford it isn’t as much of a concern for you, you need to know how much the lawyer is going to cost. It’s hard to give advice like “go with the best price”, or “the most expensive lawyer is the best”, because every lawyer is different. Sometimes expensive firms are worth every penny. Sometimes they’re just charging big money for the names on the door, and a small firm will be able to do just as well. You should always be making your decision based on the results the lawyer is likely to be able to get for you.

Are payments available? Most lawyers are going to require a full payment up front, but some lawyers will offer a split payment arrangement of some sort. And even if they ask for full payment up front, it never hurts to explain your financial situation to the lawyer. If you can afford the fees, but just need a bit of time to make the final payment, tell them that. See if they’d be willing to work with you.

I know it’s a lot to think about, but with something as important as an OWI – even a first offense – you have a lot at stake. Getting answers to all of your questions is critical to making a good decision regarding your legal representation, so ask away! The worst the lawyer can say is “no”!

Whichever option you choose, I encourage you to get the best representation you can afford. An OWI is a serious charge, and having a great lawyer will help you get the best possible outcome!

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