The May 2009 issue of California Lawyer magazine, circulated to all attorneys in the state, has just been published — featuring the cover article "The DUI Defense Bar". Investigative reporter Tom McNichol takes a hard (and long-overdue) look at the good, the bad and the ugly among drunk driving laws and lawyers. A small sample:
…DUI defense lawyers, however, aren't nearly as easy to pigeonhole. At one end of the spectrum are the specialists who've spent much of their professional lives mastering arcane technical issues such as blood and breath partition ratios, microbial contamination in urinalysis, and the perils of retrograde extrapolation in chemical tests. These attorneys typically charge anywhere from $3,500 to $10,000 to defend a first offender, not including the expert witness fees or lab tests that may be required. Top expert witnesses with national reputations can easily push the total cost closer to $20,000.
At the other end of the spectrum are cut-rate practitioners with no particular expertise, who charge as little as $1,000 per case. These include "dump truck" lawyers, who sign up as many clients as possible and then dump them all on the guilty-plea docket; and "escort" lawyers, who escort clients up to the judge like a high-paid call girl, plead them guilty, and then disappear with the money.
These DUI mills typically offer a lowball rate to clients, and they tend to give commensurate service. One California attorney who advertises his "cheap DUI defense" widely on the Internet pitches prospective clients: "We do the same thing over and over again. There is simply no reason to spend thousands of dollars on your defense. We charge about half of the going rate."…
Ok, time for a little shameless back-patting:
…By punching enough holes in the prosecution's case, a good DUI lawyer can, if not exonerate a client, then at least knock the charge down to what's known in the trade as a "wet reckless"—an alcohol-related reckless driving offense.
This is where defendants often get from their lawyers what they pay for. At the Law Offices of Lawrence Taylor, Inc.—where attorneys devoted exclusively to DUI cases charge top dollar—blood and urine samples are routinely reanalyzed; breathalyzer maintenance, calibration, and administration are investigated; and sometimes the scene of an arrest is revisited. Taylor's firm also boasts a support staff that includes a forensic toxicologist who once did DUI testing for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's crime lab, a former hearing officer for the DMV, and a former police officer who was on the Santa Ana department's DUI task force. That's a far cry from the firms where lawyers, by their own admission, "do the same thing over and over again."
Still, at a time when general practitioners are finding it much harder to make ends meet, it's a good bet that more of them will take on DUI cases, whether or not they know what they're doing. Tough times are also likely to drive more drunks onto the road, leading to more DUI cases—and even more lawyers chasing them.
What insight! Pulitzer Prize stuff….