This article is by Steve Raiser, a NYC and Los Angeles criminal attorney. People don’t really want to pay for a criminal lawyer. Many often decide to go with a public defender, since it’s cheaper. Typically attorneys set their own fees, and can charge anything they feel is compensatory to their skill and experience.
The complexity of your case is something that will influence how much the attorney charges. If the case is hard, or if it’s a felony vs a misdemeanor, then the attorney will charge more. Felonies have greater penalties, which means the stakes are higher – and the attorney has to spend more time. Another factor is the attorneys experience. Less experienced attorneys ask for less money than experienced attorneys. Another important factor is geography. The cost of living in NYC and Los Angeles is much higher than Kansas. Needless to say, as a result – criminal lawyers will charge more for their time.
As a result of things like this, there is no such thing as a standard fee when it comes to what an attorney might charge. In a survey done by Consumer Reports, the median fee charged by criminal attorneys was $1,500. Example fees can range and vary. For example, a defendant charged with a misdemeanor that goes to trial should expect a fee in the area of $2-3k. An attorney who is handling a felony may charge fees upwards of $10,000. Many attorneys will ask for either an upfront fee, or the entire amount upfront.
One of the things we often see as a problem – is when attorneys charge super low rates. Most competent attorneys will charge around the same amount as other attorneys. Low hourly rates can be misleading. Experienced attorneys will want a high rate in order to get adequate compensation to the amount of time they are spending on your case.
Hourly Billing is one of the most popular methods of billing. In this case, a defendant will pay an hourly fee for the time a lawyer devotes. Average hourly rates are anywhere from $150 to $350 per hour. This does not include other fees the lawyer incurs, such as copying fees, subpoena fees, and more. This is something which can be advantageous, or not, depending on the complexity of your case. If you have a tough case, then you could see your bills skyrocket. If you have a simple case which doesn’t take too much time, this can be a quick way of paying and settling a case. Hourly fees give attorneys more incentive to devote more time to your case. Typically, even if an attorney charges an hourly rate — the attorney will set a minimum retainer fee.
Case billing is another method of billing. Lawyers may charge a fixed fee. This means the cost to the client is locked. It also means, regardless of how many hours a lawyer works – the clients cost doesn’t go up. Case billing has it’s advantages and disadvantages. Defendants know their total costs – and it means the attorney has to take the risk if there’s an unforeseen complication. It can be disadvantagenous to a client, if the attorney handles the case quickly and doesn’t do enough work to make the client think he earned his retainer. In most cases, the fee may only cover a certain portion of the case. Typically, the fee only covers pretrial phases of the case. The attorney may require an additional fee to handle the trial.
Contingency fee is another type of financial method of paying lawyers. Typically, contingency fee is not possible in criminal cases. Contingency fee arrangements are only possible where there is money being awarded as damages. If the client is eligible for collecting damages, then the lawyer can ask for a % of that. Defendants in criminal cases don’t recover financial damages if they win – which means it’s not possible to collect money. As a result, for criminal cases – contingency fee’s aren’t possible.