Why should you meet with an attorney before you ask what they would charge
A lot of people call criminal defense attorneys and say: this is my case, how much would you charge for that? This is not something you should ask over the phone for several reasons:
- Finding a criminal defense attorney should not be just about finding the cheapest. Attorneys set their own prices and they usually have reasons for their prices. An attorney may be the cheapest because their business is designed to provide services at low prices, or it may be because the attorney is desperate for work, in which case you should be concerned as to why. In criminal defense, most attorneys charge a flat fee. They base this fee on how much work they estimate the case might involve.
- If an attorney is quoting a low price it may be because they estimate they will not be spending much time on your case, and again you should be concerned with why. If it turns out your case requires a lot of attention, will that attorney give that attention if it is more work than they expected? Will they return your calls, answer your questions, and give your case the attention it needs? These are questions best asked in person.
- You should interact with the attorney and get to know how they interact with you. Phone calls are impersonal and don't give you a feel for whether the attorney cares about your case or is really responsive to you. There is no point in paying for an attorney who is not going to do something for you.
- If an attorney can give you a quick fee quote over the phone, they see your case as a cold calculation, not as a person who needs help. Throughout the system you will be treated as a number and viewed based on a limited number of factors, such as what you are charged with and what your criminal history is. The system becomes a math problem where you are not treated as a human being, just part of an equation. A criminal defense attorney should be focusing on what makes you and your case unique and be prepared to individualize your case to the prosecutor and the court.
- It is okay to ask over the phone if the attorney takes payments or if they take low paying cases. Most attorneys will be honest if they do not because they know they are not going to get your business if you can't afford them and it is a waste of both of your time for them to try. The definition of "low paying" might vary, but you can bet most moderate to high-end charging attorneys will not claim they take low paying cases.
- Criminal charges should be important enough to you to find the right attorney, not just the right price.