I need to save my driving licence. How much regard should I pay to the ‘success rates’ I see advertised by motor offence solicitors?

Introduction

You stand accused of having committed a road traffic offence. It is essential that you maximise your chances of saving your driving licence. You are looking for the lawyer, barrister or solicitor, who will give you the best chance of doing so. You Google ‘success rates motor offence solicitors’ and find a whole series of solicitors’ websites boasting success rates of between 95-100%. Should you be persuaded by these claims to instruct one of these fabulously successful solicitors? 

Legal Cases are rarely black or white

I regularly represent motorists who have pleaded ‘Guilty’ to speeding at excessively high speeds. Recently I had a client who was sentenced for speeding at 127 mph. After considering carefully his mitigation the court elected not to ban him (at all). How should this be compared with a solicitor who presents mitigation for a client who avoids a ban (let’s say for speeding at 91 mph in a 70 mph limit)? You may think that it would be relatively easy to avoid a ban in the latter case compared with the former. So, how much weight should each case be accorded in a ‘success’ table?

To take a variation on the above example, I recently represented, upon a ‘Guilty’ plea, a gent caught speeding at well over 100 mph. He was banned for 28 days. As soon as we were out of earshot of the magistrates he made clear in emphatic terms that he regarded the sentence as a ‘result’ (he was thrilled that the ban was short enough to allow him to keep his job when he had justifiably expected a markedly longer ban). If ‘success’ is gauged, in such cases, by the crude measure of avoidance of a ban then this case would have had to have been registered as a ‘failure’ in any league table. Yet, it was clearly a marked ‘success’ from the perspective of the client (which, after all, is the only perspective that matters). I can give example after example of cases resulting in bans but which the clients regarded as ‘successes’ such as the man speeding at 97 mph in a 50 mph limit who received only a 7-week ban when he expected a 7-month ban and so on….

Contested hearings have even more variables than ‘guilty’ pleas (too many for me to even begin to set out in a short article of this type). Consequently, they are even less suitable for measurement in any kind of ‘success’ table. In any event, so called ‘success rates’ can only have any meaning if one is comparing like with like. For this to have happened the solicitors’ practices advertising ‘success rates’ would have had to have agreed and common criteria as to how ‘success’ should be measured. So, next time you read of a motor offence solicitor claiming to have an impressive ‘success’ rate as measured by his percentage of ‘successes’ in motor offence cases you might care to email him or her and ask for the criteria which he and his fellow solicitors have agreed should be used. I am asked from time to time what my ‘success’ rate is. I never provide a percentage figure as to do so would, in my view, be potentially misleading and, therefore, unethical.

How can you assess the abilities of lawyers you identify online?

You can and should make enquiries as to the professional competence and reputation of the lawyers concerned. This is not always as difficult as you may think. Nowadays, there is often social evidence that can be checked. For example, you can ask them to point you to publications they have written on their area of specialisation. You can often look at their LinkedIn profiles to see how many personal recommendations have been posted about them and what they say. You can ask them to give you the details of some clients whom they have dealt with recently whom you can contact and so on. And, of course, you can read the testimonials on their websites. If you take these steps, ensure that they are experienced and that they specialise in the area of law with which you are concerned then you will have done what you can to ensure you have the best representation available.

 

15th March, 2017

Sunil Rupasinha,

motor offence barrister

Image credits:

kiwinz

peggydavis66

 

 

You stand accused of a road traffic offence. Do you need a lawyer?

There is no legal requirement for anyone charged with a road traffic offence to engage the services of a lawyer. An accused is perfectly entitled to research the law, prepare his case and then represent himself in court. If the allegation is of having committed a minor offence which is not endorsable with penalty points you might well form the view that the costs of instructing a lawyer are disproportionately high. Conversely, depending on the value you place on them, if any of your driving licence, reputation and/or liberty are at risk of being taken away you might well form the view that the costs of obtaining legal advice and representation are, relative to what is at stake, low.

You might find a medical analogy helpful – if one of your family were ill would you advise visiting a doctor to diagnose the illness and taking his advice on a prescription? Or would you instead suggest a Google search to self-diagnose and treat with all the risks posed by the proliferation of false and misleading information on the internet? Or, lastly, would you suggest putting one’s head in the sand and hoping it would all go away?

Believe it or not those accused of road traffic offences fall into all 3 camps! Sometimes those facing minor matters are confident they can go it alone. Of those facing allegations with potentially serious consequences some simply put their heads in the sand hoping it will all go away but most (in this category) seem to obtain legal advice in one form or another.

So, if you have decided to obtain legal advice and/or representation what are your choices?

You could consult a firm of solicitors        

Most solicitors do civil work of one type or another and so would not agree to take on the defence of a road traffic prosecution as this involves criminal law and procedure with which they are unfamiliar. Therefore, most would take the ethically correct decision not to represent you. Solicitors who do general criminal work would be most likely to accept your case even though they do not specialise in motor offences. Finally, there are some firms of solicitors who specialise solely in motor offences. In the next paragraph, I set out some of the factors you might like to take into account when considering a solicitor option.

I am considering engaging a firm of solicitors. What do I need to know?

Suppose you have been invited to attend a solicitors’ office to give your account and to receive advice upon your options. You have also been told that they will instruct a barrister for you to represent you at court. Should you simply attend confident that your case will be well handled?

The first thing you should ask is whether the person you are going to meet is, in fact, a qualified solicitor at all — as firms of solicitors sometimes delegate this task to junior paralegals or legal executives. Whether a solicitor or not you also need to know whether he or she specialises in the field of motor offences (remember, the whole direction of your case could be determined at this initial meeting so why should you be advised by someone who has little experience in this field). You might be told, ‘don’t worry, we will instruct an ‘expert’ barrister to represent you at court’.

CPS Surry - Driving offences It is true that barristers are expert advocates and trial lawyers. However, you should check the barrister’s on-line profile to see how experienced he is in this field. You should also ask how much is the barrister to be paid (you might be disturbed to find that this is only a small portion of your costs compared to what the solicitor is taking which itself calls into question his level of expertise and motivation). Finally, you should ask if the firm has an agreement with the barrister’s chambers that they can switch the barrister the night before the case without reference to you (believe it or not this is a common practice especially where the barrister’s fee is low). If, however, upon enquiry your legal team consists of an experienced solicitor and barrister both of whom specialise in this field of law, you have checked out their profiles and testimonials, and, they have been independently assessed as being ‘top notch’, then, ‘well done’ as it would seem that you may have found yourself a good team. Do ensure though that you insist upon meeting your barrister well before the court date as it can be important that his expertise is used in case preparation. Of course, paying a solicitor and a barrister, especially if they are both senior and experienced in the field of motor offences, is likely to prove very expensive in fees which is why you might like to read on to the next paragraph.

You could consider a direct access barrister instead

This is another option. Once again you should look carefully at his or her level of experience (both overall and in this particular field). Does he have broad ranging experience of advocacy in tribunals ranging from the local magistrates’ court to the Old Bailey itself through to the Court of Criminal Appeal, for example, (or, has he spent most of his professional life in local Magistrates’ Courts?) You should look for articles written on the subject area of your particular legal issue by this barrister as well as at his online profile, testimonials, Linked-in recommendations and so on. Finally, check to see if he has been independently assessed as a top level court room lawyer (was he either ‘A’ list on the Attorney General’s list of advocates or level 4 on the CPS list?) This option also provides the advantage of continuity in that you see the same person for initial advice and case preparation who is going to represent you in court in due course. Unless you need to instruct a solicitor as well for some reason why not consider going directly to a barrister. After all, legal costs are high enough without instructing two lawyers when one will do….

 

Conclusion

The above are just some of the options available to you. Whichever route you take, do your research carefully, look for evidence of genuine specialisation in the area of law required, and, speak to the lawyer concerned before engaging him. After all, your driving licence may be at stake.