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Why you should hire a Trial Lawyer to handle your DWI or criminal case

Posted by Brian Tillman on 22 March 2012

For years, I have privately held a theory about how I think people choose a lawyer to represent them in a criminal case or DWI. It’s not flattering, but it is what it is… I think it’s like choosing a dentist. You don’t really want to have to go, but you can’t ignore it, so what do you do? You pick one and you go see them, and if they don’t completely turn you off, you go ahead and hire them because you’re clueless and they seem smart enough (and you don’t want to have to see another one). The thought just kills me, but I still go to that same dentist and I have no idea if his work is great or awful, but I think he’s all right. Just like lawyers, they’re all expensive so how do you know if you should pay a premium or is a cheaper one just as good? Here’s my perspective, for what it’s worth. I’m not going bargain hunting when I look for a dentist, or an electrician, or a babysitter, or anything Important. A criminal charge is just not something you can afford to skimp on, not in this job market, in this age of electronic data, and certainly not if you have plans for your future. If you are charged, you should look for a trial lawyer, even if you don’t even think you would go to a jury trial yourself.

So a little clarification, there are many kinds of lawyers. Some do transactions, mediations, divorces, you name it. Some areas of law are adversarial, meaning someone on the other side is trying to beat you, like criminal law, family law, or civil litigation. These cases can go to trial, but over 95% settle without one. Trials sometimes happen when the sides won’t or can’t agree on a reasonable resolution, or sometimes because one side can’t afford a negative result like a DWI conviction. (Sometimes it’s even because someone is plain old innocent, if you can wrap your head around that.)

In a criminal case, a trial is YOUR right to tell your story to a jury of complete strangers, and have them decide on guilt or innocence. So your lawyer should be a nice guy on the front end, but I want you to feel confident that he has your back when the chips are down. Believe me, there are a million ways to resolve a case, but what if it doesn’t? Are you ready to see your lawyer go to work or just get worked? So then the question becomes, how can you know who’s a trial lawyer and who isn’t? A good question is this, “Mr. Lawyer, when was the last trial you were in?” You can do variations on it, but you get the idea. Some won’t miss a beat, and some will wiggle and squirm. And I’ll even give you this- if you discover your lawyer used to be a prosecutor or worked in a public defender’s office, then you’re off to a good start because those folks get thrown into the fire early and often. If you learn they used to do personal injury law or worked for a big firm you might want to go back to our example question again.

So to wrap this up, I’m not really trying to say that you have to get a trial lawyer because your case is likely to go to trial (they almost never do)- you may think it’s a waste of time and money if it’s not likely to happen. So here’s the real dirt on this. Lawyers in the courthouse know each other, both prosecutors and defense. Among themselves, prosecutors know which defense lawyers are fearless about taking a case to trial, and who is just not ever trying a case. Let me give you an example of a hypothetical DWI case, we’ll begin with no-trial lawyer:

Defense attorney– Mr. Prosecutor, how about cutting my guy a break on this case, he’s not a bad guy.

Prosecutor– No.

That’s where it stops, because the prosecutor knows it’s never going to trial. Not ever.

Now we’ll try again with a trial lawyer:

Defense attorney– Mr. Prosecutor, how about cutting my guy a break on this case, he’s not a bad guy.

Prosecutor– No.

Defense attorney– Ok, then let’s throw it in front of a jury and see what they think.

Prosecutor– Well why don’t we keep trying to continue to work it out?

And that’s how the trial lawyer’s client got a better resolution on his case.


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