Cost Benefit of Hiring a DUI Lawyer

Attorneys are expensive, but a DUI can cost you even more. So, is a DUI lawyer a good investment? Our research says yes, it is.

gavel scales and law books

A good attorney can cost you a pretty penny, but they also can save you a lot of money if you’re arrested for driving under the influence.

How much could a DUI lawyer save you? QuoteWizard crunched the numbers, and if an attorney is able to get your first-time DUI charges reduced or dropped, you might save as much as $4,000 on car insurance alone.

How did we come up with that figure? Keep reading to learn more. In this article, you’ll also learn about:

How does a DUI affect car insurance rates?

With a DUI on your record, you can expect to pay more for car insurance. How much does a DUI impact car insurance rates, though? To find out, we decided to compare quotes from top insurance companies for typical drivers.

The driver profile we used to gather these car insurance quotes:

  • 30 years old
  • Single
  • Drives a 2010 Honda Accord
  • Drives vehicle 10,000 miles per year, on average
  • Primarily uses vehicle for commuting
  • Owns and has fully paid for vehicle
  • Occupation is marketing representative with a bachelor's degree
  • Has been insured for 10 years

Also, our sample driver has the following insurance coverage levels:

We got three different quotes per company for female and male drivers in each location: one with a clean driving record, one with a negligent driving charge and one with a DUI charge. All other factors remained the same except for the driver’s gender and driving record.

The results of our study indicate that a DUI charge will significantly impact your insurance rates. Drivers with DUIs should expect to pay an average of $830 more per year for car insurance than drivers with clean records. And your rates will be higher for a minimum of three years, meaning you'll spend at least $2,500 more on insurance during that time than drivers with clean records.

These numbers also highlight the potential benefit of successfully negotiating a negligent driving charge in lieu of a DUI. Drivers with negligent driving incidents on their records will spend $1,460 less on insurance over a three-year period than drivers with DUIs.

If you have any other incidents on your record, like speeding tickets or accidents, you're probably already paying higher insurance rates than you would if you had a clean record. Adding a DUI into the mix raises your rates even more. 

Having multiple stains on your record also puts you at greater risk of seeing your coverage canceled altogether. That's why it's vital to do everything in your power to lessen the impact of a DUI charge. "The insurance savings over a multi-year period will be in the thousands and more than pay the costs of my services," Jay Norton, a Kansas DUI lawyer, told us.

There are considerable long-term insurance savings for drivers who can get their DUI dropped or reduced to a negligent driving charge. And it's not just higher premiums that will cost you.

Graphic Showing Benefits of DUI Lawyer

How much does a DUI cost beyond insurance?

The cost of a DUI depends on several factors, including your state’s laws and the specifics of your DUI. Still, the averages below should give you a good idea of the expenses you might face besides rising car insurance premiums after you're charged with your first DUI:

  • Court-ordered fines: This varies greatly from state to state. A first-time DUI offense often costs between $300 to $2,000.
  • Traffic school and treatment programs: Your sentencing will likely require these courses, and you will have to pay for them. They tend to range in price from $150 to $500.
  • DMV fees: A DUI usually results in a suspended license. To contest the suspension, you need to attend a hearing. In Washington, for example, these hearings cost $375. There's also a license reinstatement fee of $150.
  • Ignition interlock devices: MADD estimates an IID will cost $75 to $150 to install, with a $60 to $80 monthly maintenance fee. IIDs are required on your car for a minimum amount of time. For example, California requires first-time DUI offenders to keep the IID installed for a minimum of five months.
  • Towing and impound: When you are arrested for DUI, your car is towed and stored. You will need to pay the related costs. Tows start at about $150, and daily storage fees tend to cost $50 a day or more. Prices vary depending on your local laws.
  • Bail: Bail for a misdemeanor DUI could cost you anywhere from $150 to $10,000. Your bail amount will vary depending on your criminal history and the details of your DUI.
  • Lost wages, time and opportunities: Attending court dates and treatment programs is a lengthy process. Your work schedule may be compromised. Depending on your job, your employer might let you go due to your DUI. Future employers could be wary of hiring someone with a black mark on their record. A survey of first-time DUI offenders found that a drunk driving arrest led to an average of $4,400 in lost wages.
  • TOTAL = $1,600 to $4,000. Note: This figure excludes the attorney fees and insurance costs that are covered in separate sections. Bail, lost wages, time and opportunities also are not factored in due to their discrepant nature.

If you're facing a second DUI, the costs you face here should be even higher. Prosecutors and judges are often harsh on repeat offenders.

One additional cost that is easy to overlook in the wake of a DUI charge or conviction is the SR-22 requirement. Drivers with DUIs may need to file an SR-22 form, a liability document that many state DMVs require for high-risk policies. SR-22s often carry a stigma that leads to higher car insurance rates. Think of it as a badge of shame given to drivers who have broken the law behind the wheel. And it's typically required for three to five years.

"An SR-22 is a document that the insurance company has to send to the DOL or DMV that states that you have insurance in force, and that they will notify the state if you let that policy lapse," according to Devin Engelmann, office manager at Secord Insurance Agency. "It basically ties your insurance to your license. The charge for this service can be anywhere from $40 to $200 per year."

Whatever you do, don't ignore your SR-22 requirement: "Make sure to get the SR-22 if it is required, and keep it in force for the entire period," Engelmann added. "Even a one-day lapse in insurance will cause your driver’s license to cancel."

How much does a DUI lawyer cost?

Much like pinpointing the impact a DUI will have on your insurance rates is tough, it's not easy to determine how much a lawyer will cost you. "Some attorneys simply charge by the hour, and a trial will take many more hours than a plea," Norton said. "Some charge flat fees that cover different stages of the representation, including a plea, filing and litigating motions, trial to a judge or trial to a jury." 

The price of a lawyer depends on several factors:

  • Lawyers from established firms generally charge more.
  • The details of your case determine how much lawyer legwork is necessary.
  • Some lawyers charge a flat rate, while others bill by the hour.
  • Fees can vary whether you strike a plea deal, get your case dropped or go to trial.

There's no exact science to estimating how much a DUI lawyer costs. "Fees vary so much between attorneys and between different markets in America that it is impossible to say what an attorney will cost on average for a DUI," Norton explained. "It should be in the thousands of dollars for a first time DUI, though."

For example, one lawyer we spoke with charges a $5,000 flat rate for a first DUI. Another lawyer we interviewed requires a $2,000 retainer and said that usually covers an entire case. Both lawyers say their flat fees don't include the cost of a trial. Other lawyers charge hourly rates ranging from $100 to $500.

Most DUI cases don't end up in the courtroom. "Statistically, very few cases go to trial," said Jonathan Dichter, a Washington-based DUI defense attorney. "At my office, it’s less than 5% yearly." But if you're part of that 5%, you will have to pay your lawyer significantly more. One lawyer we spoke to said it’s a good rule of thumb to expect attorney fees for a trial to cost twice as much as a plea.

Based on conversations with several DUI attorneys, as well as independent research, here are some rough estimates for how much a DUI lawyer will likely cost you:

  • Flat fee for entire case (no trial) — $1,000 to $5,000
  • Hourly (hours vary) — $100 to $500
  • Trial case (not including expert witness fees) — $5,000 to $10,000

It's clear that hiring a competent lawyer doesn't come cheap, but it's also worth the cost. "Since the consequences of a DUI conviction are staggering, the cost of good legal counsel should be viewed as an investment working to protect the defendant’s future," said attorney Eduardo M. Borda.

Why should you hire a DUI lawyer?

Should you hire a lawyer to help you after you get a DUI? Consider what Denver defense attorney Jason R. Wolfe with DUI Defense Matters had to say about the subject: "Would you extract your own tooth, or would you hire a dentist who has had training?"

He has a point. DUI law and the court systems are extremely complex. A good DUI lawyer will have more than just a firm understanding of how the law works. They will also be able to bargain with the prosecutor to lower your charges. But first and foremost, you need someone who can examine your case and gather all the facts.

"A person charged with a DUI needs a lawyer specifically trained in defending DUIs to get the police reports, video recordings, audio recordings and all of the maintenance, calibration and testing logs for the breath test machine, or any underlying data on blood or urine tests," Norton said. "You have to know what to ask for, know how to get it and then know what to do with it."

Established DUI lawyers may have relationships with prosecutors and familiarity with the courts. This is a vital component to getting a good outcome for your case. "I work with the prosecutor’s office to attempt to create a plea deal that will minimize the consequences to you as a client," Dichter said.

If you don't hire a lawyer, you can either defend yourself or use a court-appointed public defender. Defending yourself is not recommended due to the complex nature of DUI law. "The likelihood of getting DUI charges dropped or reduced without an attorney can be summed up in one word: nil,” Borda said. If your case makes it to trial, you better be ready. "A defendant will be held to the same standard as the prosecutor in terms of the admission of evidence, the selection of a jury and the questioning of witnesses," added Wolfe.

Using a court-appointed lawyer isn't a terrible option if you get a DUI, but you're less likely to see the results you desire. "Public defenders are usually great lawyers, but overworked and underfunded and not likely to be able to go to the lengths necessary to investigate and litigate a DUI," Norton said.

Remember, DUI lawyers aren't magicians who can make your legal troubles disappear with the wave of a wand. But hiring an attorney who specializes in DUI law means you have made every effort in your power to get a good result from your case. "You are not only paying an attorney to beat a case, but so that you know that everything that could be done was done," Norton added. "You can sleep a lot better knowing that no stone was left unturned."

Our final verdict on hiring a lawyer to help with a DUI

You may be tempted to skimp on your lawyer to save some money. After all, a DUI charge will put you in a difficult financial position, and attorney fees represent yet another expense. But our research shows that good attorneys are worth the investment:

  • A dropped DUI charge could save you $3,400 in car insurance costs..
  • Reducing a DUI charge to reckless or negligent driving could save you $1,900 in insurance costs.
  • Court fees and fines for DUI average $3,600. For negligent or reckless driving charges, that number drops to $1,600.

The potential for long-term savings is a convincing reason to hire a DUI lawyer. But it's not just the potential for lost money that will make you want an attorney. A DUI can lead to jail time, lost driving privileges, diminishing current and future job prospects, as well as undue stress.

If you want to navigate the complexities of the law and successfully mitigate the damage a DUI can cause, you need a lawyer. As Norton told us, "The only way to do that is to have someone who knows what he or she is doing flip over every rock and look underneath it."

Disclaimer: This article is for general informational purposes only. The information presented is not legal advice, is not to be acted on as such, may not be current and is subject to change without notice. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.

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