How Much Does it Cost to Hire a Criminal Defense Lawyer
I regularly get calls from potential clients who do not wish to give out any case-specific information and want to get a “quote" over the telephone for the cost of my criminal defense services. It is difficult to quote a fee without knowing the specific facts about a particular case.
When I speak to a potential client who just wants a quote over the phone, my first question is usually, “Do you have a minute or two to speak with me about the facts of your case?" The answer is often yes, in which case I am able to obtain very basic case information like where the arrest occurred, what it was for, and whether or not the potential client has any significant criminal history. At this point I am now able to make a fair estimate of what it will cost the client to hire me. However, I still prefer to meet with clients in person before quoting any legal fees.
Normally, I will encourage any potential client to come into my office and meet with me in person for a free face to face consultation. This affords the client the opportunity to meet me in person, ask me any questions they may have about my background, experience, their specific case or the criminal process in general. It also allows me to obtain more specific information about the facts of my client’s case and better assess the client’s needs and goals.
At this point I am in a position to tell the client what I would charge for my services and explain how my fee structure works. Hiring me requires signing a written fee contract or retainer agreement which specifically outlines the financial arrangement the client is taking on and what specific services I will be providing for the client.
That being said, my fees are usually flat fees to handle one particular criminal case up to and NOT including conducting a jury trial in that case. For misdemeanor cases there is a flat fee charged for handling everything except the actual trial. This would include arraignment, pre-trial conferences, any motions that need to be run, legal research as necessary and case settlement and sentencing if necessary. In the case of driving under the influence, the quoted fee also includes setting and conducting a Department of Motor Vehicles Administrative Per Se hearing.
So that we are all clear about what we are talking about, the arraignment is where a defendant in a criminal case is advised of the charges against him and also where we get copies of the initial police investigation in the case. Pre-trial conferences are normally opportunities to discuss settlement of the case as well as any pending legal issues or motions which need to be heard.
Each of these court hearings takes time. Some of the hearings take several hours or in some cases even several days. This does not account for driving to and from court, reviewing the police reports, communicating with the client about his case, conducting any needed investigation, preparing and arguing any necessary motions, legal research, witness preparation and much more.
I generally have a minimum charge of $2,500 for handling any misdemeanor case. There are certain exceptions to this policy. Fees for trial are usually a daily fee of $1,500 per day of jury trial. A flat fee for the entire trial is also negotiable. Trial fees may vary depending upon the location of the trial, the length of the trial and the amount of trial time in the particular courtroom. My practice has shown that my average misdemeanor case which is settled prior to trial requires at least 12 to 15 hours of my time. This normally includes 3 to 4 court hearings, reviewing police reports, talking to my client, motion preparation and argument, legal research and case settlement negotiations. This does not include any outside investigation hours or costs.
Felony cases can be handled several different ways. Personally, I like to handle cases from start to finish. By this I mean I would charge a fee to handle the arraignment, early settlement conference, preliminary hearing, information arraignment, pre-trial conferences and any motions which are necessary before trial. This would all normally be handled for one flat fee. It is also possible to charge a fee through and including the preliminary hearing only. The problem in doing this is that it gives clients the impression that the case will be resolved during that timeline, when often this is not the case. As a general rule: The more serious the felony case, the less likely the case is to be settled before the preliminary hearing.
Again, to clarify: a preliminary hearing is a probable cause determination where the prosecution must prove a reasonable likelihood that a crime was committed and the defendant did this; an early settlement conference is an opportunity to resolve a case at the early stages, usually before the preliminary hearing. After a preliminary hearing, if probable cause is found to exist, the defendant must be re-arraigned in superior court and then a trial date is normally set within 60 days of the information arraignment.
Time spent handling a felony matter is often much more extensive than on a misdemeanor. The twelve to 15 hours detailed above would likely not be enough time to prepare and handle just the preliminary hearing in a complicated felony. Thus, the fees for felonies are often significantly higher than for misdemeanors because the time requirements are much greater. Beware of lawyers that are willing to take on a serious criminal matter for a fee that is too low. Remember the age old adage, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.
My minimum fee to take on a felony case is $3,500. The fees go up from there based upon the type of charge, criminal history of the client, and the location of the case. Again, there are always exceptions to my fee structure. And as with misdemeanors, the same daily fee for trial applies to felony cases.
I would also like to offer some general advice when seeking a “quote" from a criminal defense attorney. First, speak with the attorney him or herself. Do not accept a quote from the secretary, paralegal or any other sales representative for the lawyer. If the lawyer does not have enough time to speak with you before you pay him, he certainly will not have enough time for you after you pay him. Next, whenever possible, schedule an in person meeting with the attorney. This will give you an opportunity to make sure you feel comfortable with the lawyer and see that he or she is the right fit for you and your particular case. It may sound ridiculous, but you really should have a level of comfort with your lawyer. It is important that you are able to effectively communicate with your lawyer so that you can help him to help you with your case.
Next make sure the lawyer is familiar with the type of case you have, and the courthouse where the case is being fought. Try to make certain that the lawyer is a full-time criminal defense attorney, not just someone who dabbles in criminal law or is just looking to make a quick buck. Often, a bit of research on the internet can be helpful in this regard. Finally, beware of any lawyer that promises you the world or anyone who tries to scare you to death. It is unethical and dishonest for a lawyer to make promises or guarantees about the outcome of any case. Likewise it is an often used scare tactic to by unscrupulous lawyers to try and scare a client into hiring them by telling the client that something terrible will happen to them (like extensive jail time) if they do not hire the lawyer to help them.