What is a criminal lawyer going to cost? How much you will spend on a criminal defense attorney is dependent upon a lot of factors. The hourly rate, the complexity of the case, and whether the case will proceed to jury trial are just a few of the factors that will determine what a case will cost. Unlike purchasing an item (like a car) retaining an attorney is hiring a person to do a service.
In most situations, the cost of that service depends on the amount of time it takes to perform the service times the hourly rate. The hourly rate is generally set based upon the experience of the attorney. In short, what you pay for is the attorneys time. How long the service - whether it is a court appearance, drafting a motion or negotiating with the prosecution- will depend upon the complexity of the case.
While billing by the hour is the traditional method of billing, some attorneys will offer flat rate billing. Flat rate billing is a set amount for a certain type of case, regardless of how much time it takes. Driving under the influence cases, expungements and simple misdemeanor cases are examples of cases that a flat rate may be fair and appropriate.
In some cases, a combination of an hourly rate and flat rate for certain events, such as a jury trial can be negotiated.
For an hourly rate, the attorney will require a retainer. I attempt to determine how much I think a case will cost in determining the amount of the retainer. For example, if it appears that the case will settle quickly, I would require a smaller retainer then a case that I expect to go to jury trial. The client deposits money in the attorneys trust fund and the attorney will pay him/her self periodically as the work is done. A flat rate is not deposited in trust and is earned as soon as the case is accepted. Thereafter the attorney performs his/her work without any additional compensation.
I, personally, feel that it is important that any attorney see a case all the way through. While some attorneys will take a case only through preliminary hearing or some other defined point in the process, I feel that it is wrong to take a clients money then quit them just because you reach a certain point in the process. It can often be difficult for a new attorney to pick up the case in the middle and sometimes information gets lost or misplaced.
I work hard to avoid this situation by trying to have an honest conversation with the client to determine his/her goals and attempt to determine how much time will be needed to bring a case to conclusion. By laying out a tentative game plan regarding how to proceed, one can get a reasonable estimate regarding the type of resources necessary to properly defend the case.
In addition to the attorney fees, it is not uncommon to require the services of experts and/or investigators. It is important to remember that these are just estimates. Attempting to guess how the opposing attorney or the court will react and respond is all ways tricky. Things that appear simple are often made complicated in unpredictable ways. Sometimes, however, everyone will be reasonable from the outset and a case will reach a quick resolution. This usually means that the client will receive a refund from their trust fund deposit.
An important point to remember is that most attorneys will be willing to negotiate their fees. As for myself, the more a client is willing to place in trust upfront, the more I am willing to lower my hourly rate and/or endeavor to lower the the total fees. What I don't want to have to do, is come after a client for past due legal fees. Unfortunately after a case is concluded, some clients will ignore or completely disregard such a bill.
There is no getting around the fact that hiring a good criminal defense attorney will be expensive. But understanding how the fees are determined and attempting to negotate a fair fee is appropriate for any client.