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