Good DUI Attorney vs Average Attorney

What makes a criminal defense attorney good versus average, or a down right bad. I have been practicing law in Macomb County for over 30 years now specializing in DUI / OWI cases, all misdemeanors, light felonys, probation violations, driver’s license restoration, and traffic tickets. So in my 30 years years I have interacted with good attorneys, a great deal of average attorneys, and unfortunately bad ones as well. So what’s the difference?

Anyone facing a criminal charge, having lasting effects on both their immediate and long term future needs the best attorney they can afford. But how do you determine the difference between good, average, and down right bad? Well, it isn’t always easy, most people aren’t experienced in shopping for attorney representation, based on my experience here is what I would look for if I was hiring an attorney to represent, (make a situation better) for me.

First I would narrow my list of attorneys to those who specialize in the area I seek representation. If you’ve read any of my other articles within this blog this doesn’t come as a surprise. In my DUI / OWI articles I’ve conveyed the importance of hiring an attorney specializing in DUI / OWI cases, meaning greater than 70% of their case load is alcohol related cases. WHY?  Criminal law is very different from Bankruptcy Law, Divorce Law, or Estate Law. Frankly speaking, if an attorney is any good with criminal defense, he or she does not need to devote time and resources towards any other area of law. Over 40,000 Drinking and Driving related arrests occurred in Michigan last year alone. There are more than enough people in need of legal representation for DUI matters to sustain a lawyers practice, providing he or she is good at what they do. Every day an attorney is in court working on a divorce preceding, or in front of a judge discussing a bankruptcy matter, is one less day they are in front of local prosecutors and local courts as a criminal defense attorney. A good DUI / OWI attorney’s DUI case load is greater than 70%. So, first you need to eliminate any attorney who cannot sustain their practice by specializing specifically in the area you need representation.

The next important factor in determining whether an attorney is “good” is whether they limit the cases they take to one specific geographic location. I pride myself in specializing specifically in Macomb County. I am working in a Macomb County court virtually every day. Translation; I am working with and in front of Macomb County courts’ prosecutors and judges daily maintaining professional relationships. Think of it this way, if you are selling a home in Sterling Heights, you would hire a realtor whom specializes in Sterling Heights and immediate surrounding areas. You want a realtor who knows this specific market very well, not a realtor who’s majority of listings and buyers are from the Pontiac or Bloomfield area. Both are realtors licensed to buy and sell homes state wide, yet clearly the one specializing in your local market will produce a better result.

Now that we’ve established for an attorney to be great, providing above average favorable outcomes, requires he or she to specialize in a specific area of law and in a specific geographic location, let’s move on to character and skill set.

The two greatest assets an attorney has is their reputation and integrity. This goes both ways. A great attorney not only has an excellent reputation of delivering for his clients, but also with everyone within the court system as well. From the officer providing security at the courts’ entrance, the court support staff behind the counters, to the prosecutors and judges. In some of my other articles within this blog I touched on plea deals, and the role they play in Drunk Driving cases, and for that matter virtually all civil infractions, misdemeanors, and light felonys. When I am working on behalf of a client to produce a favorable outcome, usually I’m not standing in front of 12 jurors pleading a case. Instead I am meeting with prosecutors, probation officers, and standing in front of judges. When interacting with these individuals, an attorney’s reputation and integrity is the foundation for which all else is built on. If an attorney is not widely recognized as being ethical, and one who says what he means, and means what he says, then he or she will never produce superior results for their clients. An attorney must be respected by the court and its personnel to be taken seriously and produce the best outcome. Hence why it is so important an attorney specializes in a specific area of law, limited to a specific geographic location. If an attorney is not well known within a specific court, their integrity has not been tested, and reputation not established. Sometimes an attorney is well known, but for the wrong reasons. Generally these attorneys fall into what I refer to as “Budget” attorneys. (The attorneys that advertise DUI representation for $500  or $1,000) The courts know who these attorneys are, their the ones that come in, don’t review the evidence, don’t defend the client, simply ask what kind of deal can be had, accept it and sell their client on the deal.

Coming in at a very close third is likability. This comes as a surprise to many because it contradicts what we’ve seen on TV and in the movies. Our perception is a good criminal defense attorney stands tall, demands to be heard, and argues vehemently in defense of his or her client. Meanwhile the prosecution is sitting with heads down witnessing their case get shred to pieces. So, naturally when someone is looking for an attorney to represent them and see someone who is alpha, strong, demanding, borderline bullying, they may be inclined to think this attorney must be really good at what they do. Contrary to how it may be portrayed on TV, in the real world, this is exactly what you don’t want in an attorney representing you on a misdemeanor, or light felony. Unlike on TV, my goal is not to be at trial vehemently defending your actions, only to leave your fate in the hands of 12 jurors. Instead my goal is to produce a favorable outcome for my client without the need to go to trial. As I’ve cited in other articles posted within this blog, of the 40,000 arrests for Drunk Driving in Michigan last year, fewer than 100 went to trial with an acquittal as the outcome. That is fewer than .003%, fewer than one tenth of one percent. The other 39,900 either plead guilty or a plea bargain was worked out. If you work in the sales industry, you can attest, people do business with people they like. For an attorney to be great in the area of law I specialize in, they must be likable. My goal is to persuade the court to accept a reduced conviction based on a merit of reasons. Being likable goes a long ways in being effectively persuasive.

With that said, merely being likable and persuasive doesn’t grantee an above average outcome. Behind the specializing, reputation, integrity, likability, and persuasiveness must be solid defense experience. Its what is referred to in the industry as good lawyering. But to practice good lawyering, first an attorney must meet the above criteria I outlined above.

  • Specialize in specific area of law
  • Limit cases to specific geographic location
  • Strong Positive Reputation with clients and court system
  • Integrity is at the forefront of everything they do
  • Likable, persuasive, not pushy, doesn’t use fear tactics or sales tactics
  • Criminal Defense experience with proven results.

If you or someone you know is in need of a good criminal defense attorney whom specializes in DUI / OWI, all misdemeanors, and light felonys, specifically in Macomb County, email me at or reach out to my office at 586-979-6000 – I’ve been practicing criminal defense in Macomb County for over 30 years, I will answer any questions you may have.

Ernie Robinette Jr. – Specialized Criminal Defense Attorney – Macomb County