You’ve set up your criminal defense practice -- complete with a sleek new mobile device, a great shared office space, and state-of-the art billing system. Now you are ready for clients.
To start off your career, driving under the influence (DUI) crimes can be the bread and butter of your practice. With over 1.1 million drivers arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics in 2014 alone, you won’t be at a shortage for potential clients. But the bigger question comes up, how do you conduct a DUI client intake? And how do you convert that initial intake meeting into a paying client? Below you will find key information on how to conduct a client intake meeting, convert the potential client into a paying client, and maintain a lasting relationship that can foster future business for your DUI practice.
Start with a Simple Phone Call
If you already have a DUI client lead, be sure to reach out to the client as soon as possible. Why? Because in a criminal case, specifically a DUI, time is of the essence. There are a number of important deadlines dictated by the criminal rules of procedure in your state, as well as through constitutional rights to a speedy trial.
If your client was recently arrested for a misdemeanor DUI offense, they will have an upcoming DUI arraignment. Ideally you will be present at the arraignment and handle the case from start to finish. If your client is in custody, it is even more important you meet with them to determine whether you will be retained and to help argue for reduced bail.
A personal phone call is perhaps the best practice for creating an initial client bond. The client wants to know that they are dealing with a real person, not a fancy, "I’m too busy for you" law firm. Impersonal communications through email or a legal secretary fail to nourish the initial attorney-client relationship.
Have an In-Person Client Meeting
Now that you’ve scheduled the initial client meeting, remember to conduct a full client intake interview. This is a reciprocal chance for the client to learn about you and for you to also learn about the client. Careful client selection is an important aspect of a successful practice. Is this someone you will want to represent? Will this person be able to afford your fee? Sometimes a client may look a financial risk on paper, but when you conduct a careful client intake, you learn they have several sources of assets or persons willingly to help with their legal fees.
Next, try to anticipate your potential client’s questions. For many clients this is their first exposure to the criminal justice system. They are likely scared or confused and need reassurance that their future attorney is an authority on the subject and has a steadfast approach to a DUI defense. Be clear that you can’t guarantee any particular outcome, but you can offer them a clear understanding of the law and strong advocacy on their behalf.
So, what are some potential questions a client may have? You don’t have to answer every question at the initial interview, but it is good to be prepared. Here are a few:
- Am I going to prison? Will I lose my license?
- What is the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) hearing process?
- What happens at a DUI arraignment? Do I have to speak in court?
- Do I have a defense to my case? Can you get my case dismissed?
- What are pre-trial motions?
- Are we going to trial? (Explain that many cases actually end in a plea bargain, as opposed to a jury trial).
- What will my DUI sentence be?
Get the Facts
In order to provide your potential client the best possible defense, you’ll need to find out a few things at the intake interview:
- When was the arrest?
- Where was the arrest?
- Did you take a chemical test? Results? (If they know)
- Do you have a copy of the police report? (If not, as their retained attorney, you will get it at the arraignment or possibly by contacting the prosecutor ahead of time).
Be Clear About Fee Structure
Once you go over the DUI case, it is wise to discuss the fee structure with your client. Appearing transparent will further help in building the trust relationship with the client. For instance, if you charge a flat fee for the DUI case, make sure to explain exactly what is included such as representation for everything from initial arraignment through the DUI trial, not including the appeals process. Will you also include the DMV hearing in your fee or is that separate? Remember, keep it simple and straightforward.
Explain Any Possible Defenses
You may wish to discuss any possible DUI defenses with your potential client. Without getting into too many details or giving any guarantees, you can mention the following defenses if you believe they apply:
- Improper traffic stop or other improper police actions
- Improper administration of field sobriety tests (FSTs)
- Accuracy of chemical test
- Rising blood alcohol defense
- Mistaken driver’s identity (usually in solo vehicle DUI car accident scenarios)
Follow Up with the Client and Seal the Deal
One of the most common scenarios you will encounter with a potential client is the need to "think it over." DUIs are expensive and most people need time to absorb all the information. Be kind, respectful, and understanding. Reassure your future client that you will give them some time to consider their options and you’ll be in touch in a few days. And then do it! Don’t make a promise and fail to deliver. Call if you say you will call. Email if you say you will.
When you do contact your future client, gently remind them of the importance of having a strong advocate in their corner. You may also wish to mention their upcoming court date without putting too much pressure on them or sounding like a salesperson. If you have prior training or experience that will help you better represent them, say it. For instance, if you are a former DUI prosecutor that can be a great selling point and help the client feel more at ease. Whatever you do, always be sincere and straightforward.
Now go out there and retain those clients. If you provide excellent service, even if not the outcome they hoped for, it opens the door for future client referrals to their friends and relatives.
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