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Ethical Fee Agreements In Criminal Defense

Posted by attorney David Brengle

Recently, fee agreements that are common in criminal defense cases have come under some criticism by the attorney disciplinary bodies in Texas and Missouri. I would like people reading this to understand the good portions of this and the bad portions.

Texas and Missouri are now prohibiting attorneys from charging "non-refundable flat fees". The practice the bar organizations are trying to stop is that of an attorney that accepts a large flat fee, and then finds a way to exit the case without refunding the fee or a situation where the attorney wins the case early and the client wants money back. I suppose client's would prefer that attorney's win slower. In any case, what I find interesting is that the bar associations have chosen to attack high fees, but not low ones. Why is it o.k. for attorneys to accept DWI cases for $500 dollars as is often the case in Missouri. In this situation, the attorney is paid so little that he can afford to do basically nothing in the way of defending his client. Apparently, the bar associations in Texas and Missouri think it is bad to have a well paid defense attorneys win, but it is o.k. to have a poorly paid defense lawyer encourage people to plead guilty, because he or she cannot afford to mount a defense. The message the disciplinary associations are sending to the criminal defense bar is this, "if you are a good lawyer, we would prefer that you not practice criminal defense."

Please know this; if an attorney charges high fees and does not do work to earn that fee, this practice is reprehensible and should be discouraged at every chance available. However, attorney's that swear to uphold the Constitution, accept diminutive fees for the defense of citizens accused of crimes, and work their whole careers never trying a case are disgrace to the profession and are deserving of at least as much disciplinary action has attorneys that require large retainers for their work.

If you are looking for a criminal defense or DWI defense lawyer, you should expect that in most cases, you will get what you pay for. If you would prefer that your rights are protected, beware of attorneys charging low fees, because they simply cannot afford for your case to go on for an extended length of time. They need to move on to the next small fee quickly.

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Filed under: Criminal defense