Also see our overview article on Choosing a California DUI Lawyer
Navigating the field of DUI defense lawyers in California can be challenging. Lawyers are free to say almost anything in advertisements on the web, television, radio or in printi. While various private and public organizations exist to supposedly help you, some are simply self serving promotional endeavors. Hopefully the information below will help you to understand and separate out the truth from the fiction.
The most obvious place to start is with the California State Bar. There you can search for attorneys by name and see if discipline has been imposed for malpractice or the like. This is the ONLY completely publicly maintained source. Even though it is privately run, Martindale-Hubbell, is considered the best neutral source for attorney evaluation. There system ranks attorneys based on knowledge and ethics. A full explanation can be found on their web site but the highest level is an AV rating.
Perhaps the most confusing term or terms is specialist, and its related derivatives. While California law limits the use of the phrase Criminal Law Specialistii, enforcement is lax and certain qualifiers remove the term from State regulations. One noteworthy example is the term California DUI Lawyers SPECIALIST. The California DUI Lawyers Association, is a voluntary, self-administered group, and most if not all serious DUI defense attorneys belong to this organization. The CDLA grants its “SPECIALIST” status to attorneys based on the attorneys historical and current record, knowledge etc. Seeing this level of knowledge is a good place to start.
Nationally, the American Bar Association, recognizes a select few fields of law as being so complicated and important to the public, that regulation is necessary. Defense of DUI cases has been recognized as one such field. The ABA distinguishes attorneys with the highest level of skill in these fields as “BOARD CERTIFIED”. In order to obtain this distinction, and to be allowed to use the phrase, an attorney must first QUALIFY for the exam through demonstration of experience, knowledge and skill that generally takes years to obtain. Then a multifaceted, multi day exam is given. Passage of this exam is rumored to be less than 20%. Currently California has 6 Board Certified DUI defense attorneys. Because this exam is an objective evaluation, it is considered to be a good benchmark to find the highest level of attorney in the field.
In the truly private field there are several sources, both www.AVVO.com and www.yelp.com are very popular. The problem is that AVVO allows for lawyers to boost their ratings with certain manipulations and YELP has no screening process at all. In fact, YELP will keep negative reviews up longer than positive reviews and allows for anonymous postings which could be from competing attorneys. The testimonials on AVVO are checked for fraud and a formal process exists.
Perhaps the best way to see if a DUI Defense attorney knows their stuff is the lecture circuit. Neither State Bar organizations nor private seminars would use an attorney who is not both knowledgeable and respected. The same can be said for publications in the field. If an attorney writes the book or regular articles in DUI defense which other practioners use as a resource, then that attorney must know their stuff.
On the other hand, self promotional literature, like glossy mailers to potential clients, has little or no value. While it might be informational, look at it for what it is, advertising.
In the end, the best way to judge an attorney is through personal contact. Many first appointments are by phone, which can be fine, but to be sure you are getting what you are being told you will get, take the hour or two to go to the attorney’s office. Find out if they have a full staff, look at the folders of current clients to see if the work is being done, ask to see the certificates, diplomas and other marks of distinction the attorney claims. In other words, shop around or you may learn “If you think hiring a professional is expensive, wait until you hire an amateur.” Red Adair