How Much Will a Criminal Defense Lawyer Cost?
The short answer is “it depends.” Here is the longer answer:
When you hire a lawyer, one of the first things you will sign will be the “retainer agreement.” Different lawyers have different types of retainer agreements. But, all retainer agreements should outline how the lawyer gets paid, what is covered by that fee, and who will be responsible for other costs involved in the litigation.
Typically, criminal defense lawyers work on a “flat fee” basis. By contrast, personal injury lawyers work on a “contingency fee” basis. Those are the lawyers who you might hire if you were involved in a car accident or slipped and fell and you wanted to sue someone to pay for your injuries. They get paid only if you get paid. Another fee type is the “hourly fee.” Divorce lawyers will usually charge you an hourly fee. With an hourly fee, the lawyer takes some amount of money from you up front called a “retainer.” Though it is in the lawyer’s possession, that money remains yours until the lawyer works for it. For each hour the lawyer works, he or she will send you a bill outlining what was done and how much it costs. The lawyer then pays the bill from the retainer you provided. When the retainer is gone, the lawyer can either require a new retainer, send you a bill to be paid, or stop working on the case.
Criminal defense lawyer cost and fees are not based on a contingency fee basis, and usually do not work on an hourly basis. Instead, most criminal defense lawyers will charge you a “flat fee” at the beginning of your case. The flat fee should cover all of the lawyer’s time necessary to help you resolve your case. It may, or may not, include a trial. It also will not include other costs involved in litigating your case, like the cost of hiring an expert witness, or the cost of hiring a court reporter to record and transcribe any depositions your lawyer will take. These are things you will want to clarify with the lawyer you are hiring before you sign the retainer agreement.
There is nothing wrong with a criminal defense lawyer charging you a separate fee for trial. Trials are very time consuming for the attorney and going to trial will likely mean the attorney won’t be retaining new clients during that time. That means the attorney must account for the lack of income during that time when he or she is trying your case. Some lawyers will simply include a trial fee into their initial fee. Others choose to separate the trial fee to help reduce costs for those clients who are very unlikely to go to trial. Regardless of what kind of fee is being proposed, it is important you understand what your fee will cover and what is not included.
All lawyers would prefer to be paid up front. In other words, when we tell you the fee is $3,500, we expect that we will be paid $3,500 before we begin work on your case. Some lawyers will accept payment plans. You should be weary of payment plans for several reasons. First, most criminal defense lawyers’ fees are non-refundable (check the retainer agreement to be sure). Failure to complete payments will usually give the lawyer the right to withdraw from your case. And no, they will not likely refund the money you have paid. And, as long as that fee is reasonable, it is unlikely anyone is going to force them to give you the money back. As a result, you may end up paying the lawyer to do very little work on your case and then have to hire a different lawyer, or have a public defender appointed for you, when that lawyer withdraws.
That is not to say that all lawyers who take payment plans are going to steal your money. On the contrary, most lawyers will not take your money and run. But, it is important you understand the consequences of failure to pay before you fail to pay.
At Scott Berry Law, my fees will be based on the amount of work I believe will be necessary to resolve your case, the level of experience I have as a board certified criminal defense lawyer, and the seriousness of the crime with which you are charged.