Questions to Ask a DWI Lawyer

Finding the right lawyer to represent you in a Raleigh DWI case can take some effort. What questions should you ask to find the right DWI lawyer?

First, it’s important to understand that most people have little or no idea how to hire a lawyer. The same goes for hiring a mechanic, doctor, accountant, or dentist.

Some ways to determine whether someone has a good reputation is to ask around. But if you don’t know anyone who has used a criminal defense lawyer (and it’s typical for people to not talk about their criminal charges), you need to look for other signs of an effective lawyer.

  1. The school the person went to – I graduated from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, the top public law school in the State.
  2. Word-of-mouth references (see mine here on Avvo and here on Google)
  3. Ratings (Avvo) and Better Business Bureau
  4. Affiliations – I am a member of the National College of DUI Defense, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the North Carolina Advocates for Justice
  5. Training – I have attended the same Standardized Field Sobriety Training (a 24 hour course) that law enforcement officers attend. I have attended numerous continuing legal education seminars on DWI and DUI defense, including on the Intox EC/IR II, blood testing, and DWI detection.

But sometimes you need to interview the lawyer yourself to find out whether the person is the right fit for you. Because the practice of DWI law in North Carolina is unique – this is, frankly, one of the worst states to be charged with a DWI – you need to think about how to hire a North Carolina DWI lawyer.

What are some questions you should ask?

  1. How many cases do you take to trial?
    • While your case may never go to trial, you want to consider a lawyer who fights cases. Since you’ll be relying on his or her judgment about the possibilities for a successful outcome when going to trial, you should ask how frequently the person takes matters to trial.

  2. How many cases do you take to jury trial?
    • North Carolina has a two-tiered trial system. DWIs are misdemeanors, meaning that they are first handled in District Court. Your case may be a good case for a jury trial. It’s important for you to consider hiring a lawyer who takes cases to jury trial, especially if your case may be a case worth litigating in front of a jury.

  3. Do you use experts?
    • Most DWI cases never involve expert testimony by the defense. But you want to be sure your defense lawyer has used experts in the past, and has a network of experts to draw from because your case may be one that would benefit from an expert.
  4. Do you focus your practice in the county where my DWI was charged?
    • In North Carolina, your case will first be resolved in District Court. That process may take 6 to 9 months. It’s important that your DWI lawyer be familiar with the local rules of practice in that county. I do the majority of legal work in Wake County. I am familiar with the local practices, the judges, the prosecutors, and the other staff in the Wake County Courthouse.
  5. Does the lawyer you’re interviewing seem hurried or inconvenienced? Or does he or she take time to answer your questions?
    • Hiring a lawyer is a big financial decision, and an important step in handling your case. Does the lawyer, or law firm’s legal staff seem too inconvenienced to deal with your case? Do they take time to answer your questions before you pay them money? If so, you may want to avoid. We offer a free consultation of a half hour or more by phone. In addition, if you want to meet us in person, we ask that you bring money prepared to hire us, but if you decide upon arriving that you aren’t comfortable hiring us, we don’t charge you for the time.

  6. How many DWI cases does the lawyer handle?
    • DWI law is a different from other areas of criminal law. A lawyer who does a lot of traffic tickets may be a fine traffic ticket lawyer. But you certainly want to consider carefully whether a lawyer who handles only a few, or who has limited experience with DWIs, is the right lawyer with you. In addition, a lawyer who has practiced in other states may be unfamiliar with North Carolina DWI practice, which is unique. You may want to avoid a lawyer who has practiced elsewhere for years, and recently moved to North Carolina.

  7. Does the lawyer handle high stakes DWI cases?
    • While your DWI may be a garden variety DWI, it is important to you. But you should consider hiring a lawyer who has handled very high stakes DWI cases, including felony DWI cases. Such a lawyer is likely to be more familiar with the ins-and-outs of DWI law, including all possible defenses.

These are only some of the questions you might ask or consider when selecting a Raleigh DWI lawyer. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It is one of the most important decisions you will make.

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Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.