Driving while intoxicated (DWI), or under the influence (DUI) puts both the driver, and innocent people at risk. Not only is it dangerous, it is considered a criminal offense, and those charged with the crime can face severe consequences. A DWI lawyer is a legal professional that represents individuals charged with a DWI or DUI. Keep reading to learn more about DWI lawyers.
What Does a DWI Lawyer Do?
DWI and DUI both refer to the crime of driving while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. Some states use the two acronyms interchangeably, while others classify them as two distinct offenses. For example, in Missouri, there is no difference between a DWI and DUI, but in New York, DUI is used when an individual’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is below the legal limit of 0.08 and DWI when it is higher.
When a person is suspected of driving while impaired, breathalyzers and blood tests are used to determine their BAC. In all states, driving with a BAC at or above 0.08% is considered a crime. When a police officer determines that a driver exceeds the legal BAC limit, the driver is arrested, and often their car is impounded. The length of time spent in jail will vary as some states hold suspects until they sober up, while others keep suspects in custody until the go before a judge.
The penalties for a DWI or DUI vary depending on the state, but they can include:
- License suspension
- Jail time
- Installation of an ignition interlock device
- Participation in an alcohol treatment program
- More severe penalties if the offender was involved in an accident
If you are charged with a DWI, you are facing a lengthy legal process. Because it is a serious charge, you should strongly consider hiring an attorney. A DWI lawyer is familiar with the DWI/DUI laws in your state and he or she can help you understand the charges against you. The attorney will also handle the administrative details involved with the case, recommended the best course of action to take, and represent their client in court.
A skilled DWI lawyer will attempt to get a client’s charges reduced or dropped during the pre-trial process, and this may involve taking a plea bargain (agreeing to plead guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence). If the case goes to trial, the attorney has several roles including assisting in jury selection and gathering expert witnesses.
Professional Requirements to Become a DWI Lawyer
Becoming a DWI lawyer takes plenty of hard work, time, and dedication. The first step in the process is attending an undergraduate school receive a bachelor’s degree. After receiving a degree, the student must take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). This standardized test is required for admission to any American Bar Association approved law school and the scores plays a large role in whether the applicant is admitted.
If the student passes the LSAT and admitted to law school, he or she will spend 3 years studying law. The first year will focus on general areas of the law, while the following 2 years will be spent concentrating on a specific practice area. Many students choose to complete clerkships, legal clinics, or internships for experience.
After graduating law school, the aspiring DWI lawyer must take and pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) (this does not apply to residents of Maryland, Wisconsin, and Puerto Rico). The MPRE tests an individual’s conduct and professionalism to ensure it meets the standards set by the American Bar Association (ABA). The last step in the process is taking the state bar exam. The bar exam must be taken in each state where the DUI lawyer intends on practicing.
Additional Education and Experience
After graduating law school, you can further your studies of criminal law by working towards a Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree. This internationally recognized program gives you a closer look at DWI/DUI laws and for some, it acts as a professional degree for admission into a law firm.
Additional Licensing Requirements
In the majority of states, it is mandatory to take continuing legal education courses in order to practice law. These courses help DWI lawyers stay up-to-date with legal issues, new laws, and case precedent. The number of course hours and the frequency vary depending on the exact state. Some states impose additional requirements such as paying fees annually.
Where Can You Work as a DWI Lawyer
Since DWI lawyers are essential criminal defense lawyers, they can work in large firms, as solo practitioners, or in private practices. Those working in large firms often charge higher fees and bring in larger salaries than solo practitioners.
A large portion of a public defender’s caseload often consists of DWI or DUI offenses. Public defenders are appointed to defendants that are financially unable to hire an attorney on their own.
How do DWI Lawyers Get Paid
DWI lawyers can charge by the hour, or a flat-rate, and those charging by the hour generally require a retainer fee. A retainer fee is a deposit of sorts, as it is a partial payment paid upfront and held into a special account for the lawyer to use as he or she works on the case. On some occasions, the retainer is spent before the case wraps up, and the client will be asked to pay an additional retainer.
The hourly rate varies depending on the lawyer’s expertise, experience, and location. The fees can range from $100 to $500, or even higher, and may not include extra services such as courier charges, travel expenses, or filing fees.
Flat-rate fees are usually reserved for cases that are uncomplicated. Even with a flat-rate fee however, the client should find out what is included in for that amount, in order to avoid unexpected charges at a later date. If a defendant is eligible for a public defender, they maybe represented free of charge.
DWI Lawyer Salary
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”) Occupational Outlook Handbook, the average wage for attorneys is $119,250 ($57.33/hr.) as of 2018. The BLS does break down the statistics by field of practice however, and the median wage for DWI lawyers varies greatly depending on location and experience.
DWI lawyers employed by large firms or those with expertise, seniority and experience tend to have higher salaries than solo practitioners or newly licensed attorneys.
Employment Outlook for DWI Lawyer
The employment rate for lawyers will grow around 8%, between 2016 and 2026 according to the BLS. This rate is average for all occupations in the United States.
Hiring a DWI Lawyer
Driving while intoxicated is a criminal offense and if you are charged with a DWI, you are facing a lengthy legal process. Because it is a serious charge, it is a good idea to strongly consider hiring an attorney. A DWI lawyer is familiar with the DWI/DUI laws in your and will work on your behalf to get the charged reduced or dropped.
After finding a DWI attorney you believe will help your case, set up an initial consultation. This is often done free of charge, and it gives you the opportunity to discuss the charges with the attorney and express your expectations. You should also inquire about the lawyer’s experience as well as their fees. Be wary of hiring the first attorney you meet with, as they may not be the best fit for your case. It is a good idea to meet with several before deciding.
How to Find the Right DWI Lawyer
Once you have determined that hiring a DWI attorney would be in your best interest, it is time to start your search for the right one. Personal references are very reliable, so it is always ideal to ask family and friends if they know of a DWI/DUI attorney they would recommend. An attorney that practices in another field can also be a good source for references.
If you cannot obtain a personal or professional reference, there are other options available. Online attorney databases are a good place to start. Many of these databases let you search by practice type and location and they generally contain vital information about lawyers such as experience, reviews from former clients, and disciplinary records. The bar website in your state also provides a list of licensed attorneys.
|Juris Doctor (J.D.), Master of Laws (LL.M.) is optional
|Licensure in state of practice
|Critical thinking, negotiation, verbal and written communication, familiar with DWI/DUI laws, ability to research, analytical
|Number of Jobs (2016)
|8% growth rate (average growth rate)
|Median Salary (2017)
|On the Job Training
|Moderate term of on-the-job training
|Top earners in the field are generally employed by large law firms
(*Source: the BLS)