The majority of lawyers in the country charge for their services on an hourly basis. The lawyer speaks to the client, discusses the case and takes a “retainer”, or advance funds, and bills against the retainer for his work. When the retainer gets used up, the lawyer asks the client for more money. Here in California, things are a bit different for criminal defense and DUI defense attorneys. Here, almost all criminal lawyers charge flat fees for their services. I’m not sure why this is, but that’s the way it’s been for the 20 years I’ve been practicing and I don’t see any changes in the industry coming any time soon.
For me (and most of us doing criminal and DUI cases every day) we meet a client, discuss the case and quote a flat fee for the job. I get paid all or at least a substantial part of the fee before I begin work and I don’t normally keep track of my hours. I find that some of the benefits of doing criminal law is that I don’t have to deal with heaps of paperwork or keep track of my hours and send out monthly bills.
Is this fair to the client?
The question a client should have is whether or not the flat fee is fair to them. I believe the answer is almost always in the affirmative. Here in Los Angeles, the criminal courts are clogged. It often takes four or five (sometimes more) court appearances to resolve even a simple misdemeanor case. We have to force the prosecutor to get us discovery, we have to talk to supervisors in order to get settlement offers and we invariably have to set cases for trial in order to get a decent deal for our clients. Four or Five court appearances generally translate into 8 to 10 or more hours of lawyer time, just going to court. This is before we read a police report, discuss it with the client, do any legal research, write any motions and conduct any investigation. The office aspect of the case including writing motions, research, and client interface, can often take even longer than the time in court. Thus, we could be up to 16 to 20 hours for our sample misdemeanor case.
Is the flat fee fair to the lawyer?
Usually, the flat fee is fare to the lawyer as well. First, I don’t have to keep track of my hours and I don’t have to send bills and go chasing money. Next, I get paid up front and that has value to me. Additionally, I am sometimes able to “stack” when going to court. This means I can go to the same court for more than one case at the same time. I can make better use of my time, and the client benefits as explained below.
Time for some quick math: At $350 per hours, 16 hours is $5,600. But if I can stack some of my cases in court, don’t have to send bills, and get paid up front, I can afford to discount my fee and take, for example, $3,500 instead of $5,600 to handle a simple misdemeanor. This seems like a win, win scenario. The client wins with the lower fee and I win by getting paid up front and not have to bill or due collections.
Will I Take a Case on an Hourly Basis?
On rare occasion a client asks me to take a case on an hourly basis and I will do it when asked. First, I caution the client that hourly may not be the best way to pay for my services (See above), but If that’s what they want, who am to say no?
In this case, I will take a retainer up front and bill against it at an agreed upon hourly rate, normally by the quarter hour. If the client is lucky, and the case gets resolved early, the client may benefit. Unfortunately, this is not often the case anymore. The client will get billed for each court appearance, phone calls, emails, research, motions, each client meeting and every other thing that I do for the client which requires my time. When I actually keep track of my time, I find that I often put in more time on my cases then I have thought in the past. And, those billable hours get paid by client.
Please note that my rough hourly calculation about is even before we talk about “after care”. When I client hires me on a case I always include at least one post-conviction court appearance. This would be to submit proof that we did what was ordered, to pays fines, attend a restitution hearing or the like. In an hourly case, this time would also be billed. Some cases require attending two or three (or more) post conviction restitution hearing dates, each of which takes at least 2 hours. In a flat fee case, these would all be included in the flat fee. In an hourly case, we just racked up another $2,100 or more in fees. You choose.
If you have questions for a veteran criminal and DUI defense lawyer, call me ,Attorney Jeffrey Vallens (818) 783-5700 or (888) 764-4340, Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org or check out the rest of my site for more information.