If you are looking to hire a criminal lawyer, chances are that you are in a difficult situation and are needing the assistance of a criminal defense attorney quickly. Facing criminal charges, whether minor or a more severe charges, is a very serious matter with consequences including jail time, creation of a criminal record, monetary fines, loss of future employment opportunities, or more. Thus, it is important that you find and hire an experienced and well qualified criminal defense attorney to assist you with your charges.
Above all, the Constitution guarantees you the right to counsel in criminal prosecutions. If you cannot afford an attorney, then the court will appoint one for you. However, if the court decides based on your income and assets that you can afford an attorney, then you may either hire a private attorney or represent yourself. As noted above, doing the latter may not be in your best interests, especially if you are facing more severe criminal charges that can result in imprisonment.
What Can Make the Costs of a Criminal Lawyer to Vary?
No one criminal case is identical to the other. Thus, there are several factors that can affect the overall costs of a criminal case including:
- Defendant’s Income: Your income determines whether you are eligible for a court appointed attorney, or whether you need to hire your own attorney. Each jurisdiction has different qualifications to determine if someone can afford to hire their own attorney. If an individual qualifies based on their income, then the court will appoint a public defender paid for by the government, as guaranteed by the Constitution;
- Investigation and Experts: Many criminal cases have complex issues that can require investigators and/or expert witnesses. For example, a defense attorney might hire an expert in chemical testing to contest or explain the results of a BAC analysis in a DUI trial, or a psychologist if the defendant wishes to raise the defense of legal insanity. Investigators and expert require on average a retainer of $2,000 and can charge over $300/hr. Thus, based on the particular circumstances of your criminal charges, there may be extra fees needed to form a stronger defense; or
- Attorney’s Fees: Criminal defense attorneys do not all cost a fixed amount of money. Attorney’s fees will vary according to several factors. Some of the more important factors affecting an attorney’s rate include:
- The skill of the attorney;
- The experience of the attorney;
- The seriousness of the offense;
- The complexity of the legal issues in the case;
- Whether the case goes to trial; and
- Whether the attorney charges a flat fee or by the hour.
How Much Would a Lawyer Cost If They Charged a Flat Fee?
As can be seen above, the cost for hiring an attorney who advertises a flat fee charge for their representation of you, will inevitably vary depending on your personal circumstances. For instance, if a lawyer charges a flat fee, and the charge is a misdemeanor, then you can expect to pay anywhere between $1,000 to $3,000.
However, if there is a possibility of trial, then you can expect that price to increase to around $3,000 to $5,000. If the charge is a felony, and the lawyer believes they may be able to receive a favorable settlement, then the flat fee arrangement may range anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000. However, if a felony trial seems inevitable, then a flat fee ranging between $5,000 to $8,000 is not uncommon.
For murder or other charges where life in prison is possible, if a lawyer works on a flat fee, then you can expect to pay upwards of a minimum $10,000 fee. Importantly, all of the above flat fee arrangements have no guarantee of a favorable outcome or your money back. Thus, it is important that you thoroughly research the criminal attorney you plan to hire before paying for their flat fee arrangement.
Why Would Lawyers Charge an Hourly Fee?
Often attorneys feel that flat fee arrangements are not a dependable way of measuring the various factors and costs associated with representing a client facing criminal charges. Thus, accomplished and well-known attorneys often choose to charge clients by the hour instead of according to a flat rate.
In addition, if a case is complex enough that an appropriate flat rate is difficult to calculate (e.g. there are multiple charges against the defendant), then the attorney may also decide to charge by the hour.
Hourly rates will vary greatly, depending on the relative ability of the lawyer and your personal case circumstances. Typically, you can expect to pay $150 to $700 an hour for a criminal defense lawyer’s time. With an hourly fee structure, it is not uncommon for legal bills to get into the $10,000 to $15,000 range quickly.
A lawyer who works on an hourly rate may also require the payment of a retainer. This retainer will cover a certain amount of that lawyer’s time. After the retainer is expended, either the hourly rate will kick in, or the attorney will have you refresh the retainer and bill their hourly rate against it.
Ultimately, the best billing structure is the one that works for you the best. Criminal defense lawyers understand how stressful of a time this is, and try to make the financial aspects as painless as possible. Still, it is always best to know what you are paying for, so you should do your research before committing to a billing arrangement.
Should I Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney or Represent Myself?
Even if you wish to plead guilty, it is extremely important to first consult an experienced attorney before you respond to any criminal prosecution. At the very minimum, a skilled attorney can ensure that the charges against you are appropriate given the facts of the case and advocate on your behalf to receive the lowest possible penalty.
For example, a person is caught leaving a jewelry store with a $100 necklace. The shop owner, furious over the incident, tells the police it was a $1,000 necklace. The difference between the values is the difference between petty theft, which carries a misdemeanor charge, and grand theft which carries a felony charge. While a person has the right to proceed in their own defense, even experienced criminal lawyers will admit to not wanting to defend themselves.
Where Can I Find a Criminal Defense Attorney?
Understanding how billing generally works is the first step to starting a discussion with your lawyer about their billing structure. Don’t be afraid to ask an attorney why they charge the way they do and how they plan on using their time to ensure your freedom.