Understanding Criminal Defense Attorney Fees

When you face criminal charges, retaining a criminal defense attorney may seem intimidating if you do not know what to look for (see How to Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney). In addition to the stress of finding an attorney and wondering how your arrest will affect your future, you may have no idea about attorney fees or how you will be billed for using the services of a private criminal defense attorney. If you are not able to afford an attorney, it is important to be aware that it may be within your Constitutional right to have an attorney appointed to at a reduced rate or even free of charge (see Rights You Need to Know if You are Arrested).

If you are not using a court appointed public defender, there are a couple ways a private criminal defense attorney may charge you for his or her services: flat fees and hourly fees. Flat fees are generally applied to relatively simple misdemeanor cases while hourly fees usually apply to more complex misdemeanor or felony cases. The following article details what both of these types of fees mean for you when you hire an attorney using one of these methods.

Flat Fees

Flat fees are just what the name implies—an agreed upon amount of money that you pay upfront for an attorney’s service. When an attorney offers this arrangement, it is because he or she is aware of the time and resources it will take to see your case through to completion. For this reason, flat fees are generally not offered for complicated criminal cases or cases that could go on for an unforeseeable amount of time. The benefit to flat fees is that you know exactly how much your attorney will charge to handle your entire case.

Hourly Fees

Hourly fees are an agreed upon hourly rate at which you will reimburse your attorney for services rendered. These hourly rates may vary greatly depending on your geographical location, your attorney’s legal experience, and the demand for your attorney’s services. Also, rates may vary depending on the type of work your attorney does for you. For example, your attorney may charge you a lesser rate for time spent preparing your case and a higher rate for time in litigation. In addition, you may be billed less for work done by paralegals and legal assistants that help your attorney. It is important to ask about all of these things when you are negotiating attorney fees.

Additional Costs

Regardless of the method of payment you agree upon, it is important to ask your criminal defense attorney what additional costs may be incurred that are not covered by attorney fees. These additional costs may include things like: court filing fees, photocopying, phone calls, and paying for expert witnesses. Since there are a lot of costs involved in any litigation, it is essential that you ask your attorney what type of additional costs you may incur and how these costs will be billed to you.

For example, most attorneys have minimum billing increments for their time. This minimum billing increment can be any length of time, but is generally about two-tenths of an hour (12 minutes). So, if a criminal defense attorney has a minimum billing increment of 12 minutes, that means any service he or she provides you will be rounded up to the nearest 12 minute increment. In other words, if you have a five-minute phone call with your attorney, you will be billed for 12 minutes. For this reason, it is important to understand exactly how additional costs will be calculated so you can make the most efficient use of your attorney’s time.

Negotiating Fees

Since attorney fees are not set in stone you may try to negotiate fees with your attorney. It never hurts to ask. In some instances, if you have a case that poses to bring the attorney a lot of recognition or if an attorney is excited about representing you, he or she may be willing to agree to attorney fees that are less than their normal rate. When negotiating, be careful not to negotiate the fee so low that your attorney may be less inclined to spend the time on your case that you need. While it is unethical for an attorney to work less diligently on a case based on a fee arrangement that they agreed to, be aware that your attorney is human and might be less motivated to spend time on your case when they can make more money on another.

Payment Schedule and Billing Information

Once you have agreed upon the attorney fees, it is important to discuss how your attorney will be paid and how you will be billed. Generally, it is a good idea to ask for a monthly statement that details the attorney’s billable work. This will allow you to verify that the charges are correct before too much time passes and muddies your memory. Some attorneys will ask for a retainer before they begin work on your case. A retainer is an amount of money you pay an attorney in advance. Your attorney fees and additional costs will initially be drawn from this retainer until the money runs out. In this way, a retainer acts as a security deposit to guarantee payment for an attorney’s services.

In addition to understanding attorney fees and how and when you will be billed it is essential that you receive the terms of your fee agreement in writing. Be sure to carefully read this document and make sure you understand everything before signing it. If there is something you do not understand or something you would like included in the agreement, it is important to discuss these things with your attorney. Once you sign an agreement for attorney fees, it is a legally binding contract.

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