Hiring an MIP Attorney
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If you have been charged with a Minor in Possession of alcohol, it is time to take this charge seriously. I have seen a disturbing trend among college students where they simply plead guilty, pay the fine, and move on with their lives. They have other things to worry about like classes, grades, and their future employment.
However, they seem to forget that the criminal process CAN affect their classes, their grades, and their future employment! On my “Telling Your Parents”page, I mention that one of the best reasons to tell your parents is to assist you in the important decision of whether or not to hire an attorney.
Two of the main reasons parents should be involved are:
- Parents typically have more ability to devote the time necessary to complete this exhausting task.
- They also have their child’s best interest at heart and will do everything it takes to make sure they are protected.
Small Cases With HUGE Consequences
My experience in representing minors charged with possessing alcohol is that very few attorneys handle these cases on a regular basis. They are considered “small” cases with “small” retainers and “small” consequences. Many times the students and their parents, already burdened with the costs of attending college, cannot afford to hire an attorney and need payment plans.
However, these are not “small” cases by any means. They are actually HUGE cases due to the impact they can have on a student’s future. The fact that the retainers are much less than other misdemeanors seems to keep the best and brightest from accepting these cases on a regular basis.
We represented a high school student who went to visit some friends on a college campus. He had an open bottle of beer in his hand as he was walking. The police approached, he got scared and actually ran from the police. The police chased him and tackled him. He had cuts, bruises, and scrapes, and took pictures to prove it.
When we got the case, I immediately had him go to an alcohol assessment, which proved that his alcohol use was a blip on the radar screen and was not something that required serious alcohol treatment. In addition, I had the student send me a list of all of his accomplishments and the fact that he was an honor student in high school.
He was charged with minor in possession of alcohol, open intoxicant, as well as failure to obey police officers. He could have been charged with a felony, which would have been resisting and obstructing in Michigan. Through plea negotiations with the prosecuting attorney’s office, we were able to have both the open intoxicant as well as the failure to obey a police officer dismissed.
He was allowed to plead guilty under a diversion program for the MIP and as long as he successfully completed his probation he would have no record from the entire incident. His future is secure.
-By Attorney William McNeil, Of Counsel for The Law Offices of Raymond Purdy
Surf The Web. You Already Do!
College students are on the internet all the time. Coffee shops on campus almost invariably have free Wi-Fi and you will see laptops everywhere. Facebook and MySpace are unbelievably popular among college students and they spend a lot of time checking their profiles and responding to messages posted by friends. Therefore, it is my firm belief that the best way to find an attorney to represent a student charged with Minor in Possession is to surf the web.
An attorney who advertises on the internet where college students can find him or her understands and speaks their language. That is not to say that an attorney who does not advertise on the internet cannot provide a very competent defense. However, these attorneys are typically obtained due to “word of mouth” advertising or a referral by a family member or friend.
If you are searching for an attorney or lawyer in your area that handles Minor in Possession charges, use Google or Yahoo and type in “Minor in Possession your town here”. You will typically find that attorneys who regularly represent students will have a website devoted to this type of practice and may come up on the organic side of the search, or left hand page of Google or Yahoo.
They may also advertise with specific key words on the sponsored ads side of Google, Yahoo and MSN. Either way, you can check out their sites and see if they offer either a free consultation or have a contact form to get more information. My sites always have a contact form for the student to fill out their name, phone number, email address, county in which they are charged, and a brief description.
This contact form, when submitted, goes right to the email on a mobile device, and I can respond to their inquiry immediately. Other firms will provide a telephone number or an alternative way to contact their attorneys.
I always offer a free telephone consultation, even if the student is not able to afford my retainer fee. Most lawyers recognize that a telephone consultation helps to establish the attorney-client relationship and can quickly determine whether or not they can help the student with their case.
Some attorneys will require that the individual schedule an office conference to get more information and some attorneys charge for this consultation. Be sure to ask the legal assistant or paralegal about their billing policy for initial consultations.
Research An Attorney Like You Would Any Purchase
How many websites would you browse if you had decided that you were going to purchase the latest and greatest smartphone? A lot for sure! When you are hiring an attorney it is no different. Remember that you are the customer!
I firmly believe that the old adage “the customer is always right” should be applied to potential clients. A good attorney should listen to the problems of the client and provide simple and straight forward advice on how they would handle their case. Do not be afraid to ask questions of your attorney.
You have the right to ask them if they handle this type of case on a regular basis, what their experience is with handling MIP cases, if they have had success in the past representing students, and their strategy for handling their case. This includes their billing policies.
Ask About Their Fee Structure. They Have To Tell You!
Most attorneys who handle criminal defense cases will charge some form of flat or fixed fee, depending on the case.
This is why I typically charged a fixed or flat fee based on my estimation of the work needed to handle the case and my past experience in handling that type of matter. I also include a full jury trial in my fixed fee so that I can represent my student throughout the criminal process.
Many attorneys charge a separate trial retainer that must be paid before they will represent the client at trial. This is perfectly ethical and acceptable, but the problem with this fee arrangement is it injects a monetary consideration into the mind of the client when deciding whether or not to exercise their right to a jury or non-jury trial.
That is why I always include a jury trial in my fixed fee so that the student knows that once they retain my office, they have me throughout the entire case, start to finish. It is a fact that most cases do not proceed to trial, but that extra assurance that we can say to a prosecutor with conviction that “we are going to trial” can mean all the difference in a negotiation.
In terms of the fees charged by attorneys, they can vary widely. There are ethical rules as to the fees that can be charged by attorneys. However, they are usually vague and subject to interpretation.
They cover things such as:
- Experience of the attorney
- The time necessary to represent a client
- The past experience of the attorney
- Whether or not the particular case will cause the attorney to forego other cases.
I have found that whether attorneys like it or not, the market dictates what fee can be charged, especially when dealing with students and their parents. An attorney right out of law school, hungry for experience and for fees to cover their overhead, might charge substantially less than an experienced attorney who can afford to turn down a case.
Fees for a Minor in Possession charge can range from $250 to $2500 or more. It really depends on the jurisdiction and the standard fees charged in that area. Students and their parents need to understand that while most Minor in Possession charges will not carry jail time or severe penalties, it is still a misdemeanor and will require the attorney to appear for an arraignment, several pretrial conferences, and possibly a trial.
That does not include:
- Making a file
- Gathering police reports
- Gathering evidence reports
- Interviewing witnesses – including the police
- Motion hearings
- Preparation for trial
Hourly rates for attorneys range from $125 to $400 an hour, so you can do the math very quickly to determine the value you are receiving in the fee quoted by the attorney.
Negotiation Is All About Leverage!
My international relations professor at The University of Michigan told the story of playing chicken with a madman. He explained that the reason it is so difficult to play chicken with them is that while both of you are driving full speed at each other, the madman all of a sudden rips the steering wheel out of the column and throws it out the window for all to see.
Who do you think will swerve at that point? It is no different when deciding whether or not to go to trial. The prosecutor does not feel like wasting a day picking a jury and conducting a jury trial with jury instructions, rules of evidence, breaks for the jury, and deliberation time.
The client does not feel like putting their life story on display for the public and wasting a day of their life. But when you can confidently tell the prosecutor that you are not accepting their plea offer and that you and your client are prepared to force them to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, the steering wheel has been thrown out the window. Will the prosecutor swerve and offer a dismissal, delay or diversion?
We represented a client where she was a passenger in a vehicle. She intelligently refused to take the PBT test offered by the police and did not admit to drinking. She smartly exercised her right to remain silent.
The police officers wrote in the police report that they observed her eyes to be bloodshot, and that she failed nystagmus tests where she lacked smooth pursuit of their flashlight. Our office was retained and demanded a jury trial.
The matter was dismissed by the prosecuting attorney’s office as they were not prepared to go to trial. Her future is secure.
-By William McNeil, Of Counsel for The Law Offices of Raymond Purdy
Get Your Fee Agreement In Writing
Although most jurisdictions do not require that a fee agreement be in writing, except for certain types of cases, you should get your fee agreement in writing from the attorney. This will make sure that you understand what you are getting for your money and what the attorney will or will not be able to handle when the fee is accepted.
I always provide a written fee agreement for my clients and include in writing that my fee includes a full jury or non-jury trial. In addition, I specifically indicated that I do not handle any appeals or administrative hearings (school disciplinary hearings, suspensions, etc.) and that the fact that a third party may be paying the retainer (i.e. mom or dad or grandma or grandpa) does not affect attorney-client privilege.
Simply put, just because mom or dad pays the retainer that does not mean that I can tell them everything that is said during conferences. I always ask the student if I can speak with a parent about the case and most of the time the lines of communication are fully open. However, I have had instances where the student has opted to tell me some facts that have not been disclosed to their parents.
These facts MUST be held strictly confidential and the parent cannot interfere in the case. If the student decides on a course of action, they are the client and not the parent.
Can You Reach Your Attorney?
Another factor to be considered in hiring an attorney to represent a college student is communication. Nearly every college student will have email. Therefore, I am always accessible through my cell phone for clients or their parents to ask questions and get quick responses.
You should ask the attorney whether or not they will communicate through email. It is a quick and easy way to stay in touch with your attorney and his or her staff. Often times I am representing a student whose parents live out of state and must communicate through phone and email. You should also ask if you will be able to send text messages to your lawyer. This has become a standard form of communication for college kids.
I typically email my fee agreement for review to both the student and their parents. I will then have the student sign the fee agreement and fax it back to me through an internet fax program that converts the document to a PDF for easy electronic case storage.
I will also accept credit card payments through my online invoicing system. All of these means of communication speed the hiring process and allows the attorney to quickly file their appearance with the court (notice that they will be representing the student) and start gathering evidence to mount a defense.
I will almost always advise parents to hire an attorney to represent their son’s or daughter’s interest. The rare exception is if the parents do not have the financial means to hire any attorney or the facts of the case justify a diversion which is offered at the first hearing.
Otherwise, I advise parents to call several different attorneys and gather as much information as they can on the criminal process of their jurisdiction and the reputations of attorneys in the area. One way that I have been successful in finding the best criminal defense attorney in a particular jurisdiction is to call a corporate law firm.
If they do not handle any criminal defense matters, they will typically refer you to the attorney who handles their white collar criminal cases or who represents the children of the CEOs and managers of the companies they represent.
Bottom Line: Ask a lot of questions and take the process seriously!
Call 1-616-502-1646 for a Free MIP Consultation