There is no set guideline or rule as to how much a criminal lawyer charges for a given case. How much a lawyer charges may depend upon a variety of factors: the nature of the charge; the anticipated amount of work that needs to be performed; the anticipated amount of time that needs to be spent; the reputation, experience, and expertise of the lawyer; the complexity of the case; whether or not the case is expected to go to trial; etc.
In Michigan, a lawyer is ethically not allowed to charge a contingency fee for a criminal case (i.e. no fee unless we win or a certain result is obtained). A lawyer is also not allowed to pay any fees, costs, restitution, or post bond on behalf of the client that is in the lawyer’s name.
Many jurisdictions do not allow a court appointed lawyer to receive compensation beyond what the court appointed fee schedule provides, and the client is not allowed to pay extra to the court appointed lawyer with the hope that the lawyer will spend more time on the case. A court appointed lawyer is not usually free, and the court will usually order a Defendant to reimburse the jurisdiction for the cost of the lawyer. With court appointed lawyers there is always a concern that you get what you pay for. A court appointed lawyer is sometimes overwhelmed, inexperienced, and/or indifferent to your situation. When faced with a criminal accusation, you really need to consider what will be best for you, your family, and your future.
Most lawyers charge flat nonrefundable fees for criminal cases, traffic offenses, or tickets. That fee is sometimes structured, based upon the amount of work needed (for example, a fee for District Court proceedings, an additional fee for Circuit Court proceedings, a fee for motions and/or evidentiary hearings, a fee for each day of trial, etc.). The thought behind charging a flat nonrefundable fee, rather than charge on a hourly basis, is that there is a concern that the client will not participate in the defense and communicate regularly with the lawyer if the client is afraid of the bill that he or she will receive for every phone call, email, letter sent, and/or office visit. Great representation requires that the lawyer knows all the facts and circumstances of the case, and is able to address issues as they arise. Many critical defenses can be waived if affirmative notice is not timely provided, which requires communication with the client and a clear understanding of the case. The preparation that a lawyer does often makes a difference in the result that the client receives, and the amount of help the client provides is often critical in that preparation.
No doubt, the decision of which lawyer to hire is very important. A criminal conviction can result in some or all of the following: incarceration, probation with conditions (such as community service, counseling, drug testing, etc.), fine(s)/cost(s)/restitution, loss of employment opportunities, loss of educational opportunities, travel restrictions, loss of contact with family members/loved ones, public embarrassment, higher insurance rates, stress/anxiety. By reading this blog it is clear that you care about the quality of the legal representation which you receive.
The best way for an individual to determine whether or not the lawyer’s fee is reasonable is to meet with the lawyer. Consider how qualified the lawyer is to handle the type of issue that you have. What is the reputation of the lawyer? Has the lawyer handled similar types of cases in the past? Is the lawyer familiar with the Court, the Prosecution, and is he or she able to put your interests ahead of any relationships with the Court and/or Prosecution? Are you able to afford for the lawyer? Is the lawyer able to accept credit cards or payment plans, if necessary? Does the lawyer seem professional in his or her demeanor, office facilities, and web site? Does the lawyer seem to care about you and your result? Is the lawyer able to answer your questions and concerns? Does the advice that you receive seem sound and consistent? Is the lawyer actually going to appear on my case, or send an associate to handle it? What does your intuition tell you about the lawyer? Do not be afraid or intimidated to ask the questions necessary for you to make a determination of who you want to hire to be your, or a loved one’s, lawyer.