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I need a lawyer in a criminal case for shoplifting (3rd Degrees). Do I pay a flat fee or by the hour?

New Brunswick, NJ |

I saw two attorneys, one said I would have to pay 5,000.00 (shoplifting, first time - I was never arrested before). He said it was a "flat fee" so that it is non-refundable. Another lawyer said 6,000.00 and said he would charge me by the hour - and that I could get money back if he works less. Which attorney? How do I choose? Which attorney is more fair? The second attorney said "flat fees" are unlawful? But 5,000.00 is cheaper!

Attorney Answers 11

  1. Best answer

    You are very likely eligible for PTI. Many attorneys offer a flat fee to handle your case to PTI if your case stays in Superior Court. If for some reason your case is remanded down to Municipal Court, you might be in luck because they are starting a program similar to PTI in Municipal Courts and you are probably looking at less in legal fees. Even if you are not offered PTI, as someone with no arrests you are probably not looking at a trial as they may offer you another agreeable plea bargain.

  2. You should definitely shop around for a better price. That's a lot to charge for a PTI eligible case. Flat fees are permissible but they can not be non-refundable. If you fire an attorney after hiring them on a flat fee, they have to bill you hourly for the work they have done on the file and then refund you any balance remaining. I am not an ethics attorney, this is just my understanding of the permissible fee structures.

  3. $5000 for a shoplifting? Is that in county or municipal court. Shop around.

    The information provided in this answer is general in nature and may not apply to the factual circumstances described in your question. For a definitive answer you should seek legal advice from an attorney who (1) is licensed to practice in the state which has jurisdiction; (2) has experience in the area of law you are asking about, and (3) has been retained as your attorney for representation or consultation. Your question and the attorney’s answer may be used for promotional or educational purposes. This content does not create an attorney-client relationship.

  4. Those are pretty high rates for such a charge. Call around. Flat fees are legal and many attorneys work on flat fees. Contingent fees, based on results, are illegal.

  5. Shop around.

    IMPORTANT: Mr. Murray's response is NOT legal advice and does NOT create an attorney-client relationship. You should NOT rely on this response. Mr. Murray's response was generated without conducting a full inquiry as would occur during an attorney-client consultation. It is likely that the response above may be made less accurate, or become entirely inaccurate, as you, i.e. the questioner, disclose additional facts that should only be discussed during a private attorney-client consultation. I strongly recommend that you consult an attorney who is licensed to practice law in your state (or, in the case of immigration law, an attorney in ANY state), whereupon all relevant facts will be discussed. All responses posted by Mr. Murray on are intended as general information for the education of the public, and not for any specific individual. For persons located in New Jersey: To the extent that Mr. Murray's profile can be considered an advertisement in New Jersey, which is denied, be advised that NO ASPECT OF THIS ADVERTISEMENT HAS BEEN APPROVED BY THE SUPREME COURT OF NEW JERSEY. Furthermore, the selection methodology for the SuperLawyers' "Rising Stars" awards is set forth at length at this website:

  6. An attorney is not permitted to charge a "non-refundable " fee. You can always fire the attorney and they have to refund the unearned portion of the fee. If a flat fee system is used the attorney cannot charge more but the case reverts to hourly if fired before the job is finished. The retainer should indicate the attorney's hourly fee if that happens. Most flat fees are fair estimates of the time/fees needed to do the job. In my experience the flat fee is likely to save you over a straight hourly and most attorneys do the same job and do not shirk time because they are not billing hourly. In the criminal setting flat fees are normal since the time needed to do the job is fairly constant. You sound eligible for PTI and therefore $5000 may be high. As a colleague stated a new municipal PTI is in the works but not in place as yet. Call around.

  7. Both "flat fee" and hourly with a retainer is fair. I agree a fee can't be non-refundable so stay away from that one.

    973-984-0800. Please be advised my answers to questions does not constitute legal advice and you should not rely on it, due to the fact that we have never met, I have not been aprised of the facts in you case nor have I reviewed any documents.

  8. I must disagree with my esteem colleagues regarding the legality of non-refundable retainers in a criminal case. They are legal and ethical. However, that doesn't mean that a client won't get some money back if he contests the work the attorney did at some later point.

    Non-fundable retainers are ethical when the when the lawyer stands ready to provide the requested representation, and/or if the lawyer turns down other employment because of a conflict of interest or anticipated time constraints. Cohen v. ROU, 146 N.J. 140, 158, 160 (1996); Conover v. West Jersey Mortgage Co., 96 N.J. Eq. 441, 451 (Ch. 1924); N.J. Advisory Comm. on Professional Ethics Op. 644 (Oct. 4, 1990).
    A retainer may be fully earned, and therefore is nonrefundable, when the attorney stands ready to provide the anticipated representation, whether it actually materializes. See Advisory Comm. Op. 644 (Oct. 4, 1990). See Sections 34:3-2 and 34:3-2, Michels, New Jersey Attorney Ethics (Gann Law Books, Newark, 2000).

    That being said, I'd charge a flat fee of $3,500 for this case.

  9. Flat fees are not unlawful. Make sure you sign a fee agreement with whatever lawyer you choose. Speak to several attorneys until you find one you are most comfortable with. This is a very serious charge that could potentially lead to state prison time. Please feel free to contact my office to discuss your case in more detail if you would like. Thank you.
    Sincerely yours, -Ronald Aronds, Esq.-

  10. I agree with my colleague who said that these are high prices, but I also agree with the phrase, "you get what you pay for." Many attorneys, such as myself, offer free 30 minute consultations. Your best bet is to get the right attorney, not the cheapest. Good luck.

    The above is general information only and is not legal advice. The information provided does not form an attorney-client relationship, and should not be relied upon to take or refrain from taking any action. I am not your attorney until we sign a retainer agreement.

  11. Flat fees are not unlawful but you have a right to an hourly fee. Most attorneys do flat fees for criminal cases, I usually offer both depending on what the client wants. Any flat fee is usually an estimation of how much time the lawyer thinks it will take. I would shop around but don't automatically go for the cheapest price - look into the attorney, his or her experience, and reputation in the community. Good luck!

    Any answers I provide should not be construed as legal advice; they are meant to educate the reader. Additionally, this answer does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. If you would like to discuss your case further, please feel free to contact me at

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