I just got off of the telephone with a woman who was arrested for Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol (DUI) in Malibu, California. She told me that she was pulled over for weaving and arrested for DUI. She submitted to a breath test and blew results of .13. We went on to talk about her drinking patter, criminal history, licensing status, citizenship status, any several other issues which tell an experienced lawyer whether this case has aggravating factors associated with it. We continued to talk about the Department of Motor Vehicle’s (DMV) Administrative Per Se (APS) hearing and what was necessary to preserve her driving privilege.
About this time she asked me what it would cost to hire me. I told her I would charge her $2,500 to set and conduct her DMV hearing and go to court as many times as were necessary to settle her case without actually conducting a jury trial. She quickly responded that she had just spoken to three other lawyers who were willing to handle her case for half that fee. I tried to explain why my services are worth at least $2,500, but that seemed to be lost on her and she thanked me for my time and quickly hung up the phone.
I was happy she hung up because my services are worth well in excess of $2,500 to represent a client in a DUI case and this why: The federal government says that the reasonable value for the services of a 16 year veteran defense lawyer in Southern California is at least $425 per hour. This is not to say that I should earn that rate for every hour I work. In fact, I feel that if a client pays me a flat fee, in advance, I should discount my fee based on getting paid in full up front. Also, some of the hours “working” are driving to and from court and I do not think it is fair to charge a client my full rate for drive time.
Thus, based on discounting my hourly fee for payment up front and to account for some “down” time, the reasonable value of my services is likely in excess of $300 per hour for every hour that I work. Given this information, if I charge a client $2,500 for a DUI, that only affords me the opportunity to spend about 8.5 hours of work time on this particular case. If we explore what that means, we see that 8.5 may not be enough time to do all that is necessary on any given DUI case.
First, assuming my initial consultation with the client is free, the first thing I do on the case is request a DMV hearing. This takes about twenty minutes to get all the pertinent information and send the request to DMV. Next I go to court for the arraignment. Assuming a local courthouse, this takes me between 1 and 2 hours. I must then read the police report and review it with my client along with discussing any settlement offers. This takes at least an hour. Normally it is in the client’s best to post-pone the arraignment to see if the prosecutor missed anything or there is a particularly good settlement offer at the earliest stage of the case. We then go back on the continued arraignment date for a second court appearance. If we settle the case here we spend another 2 hours between court time, getting paperwork together and signing the client up for any required alcohol program.
About this time the DMV will mail us their paperwork in preparation for the APS hearing. I must review this paperwork and discuss it with the client – about an hour. Next I must determine if I need to subpoena and people or documents for the hearing and prep for and conduct the APS hearing. This will take at least an hour to prepare assuming no subpoenas and another hour to conduct the hearing. If subpoenas are required it will likewise require more time to prep and to conduct the hearing.
If we don’t settle the case at the arraignment stage, we enter a not guilty plea and set another court date for a pre-trial conference. On this, the third court date, we talk to a different prosecutor and judge about the case, any pre-trial motions that are required and any new settlement discussions. I must talk to the client about what happened and this usually takes another 2 to 3 hours in total.
At this stage, if a motion is required it usually takes at least an hour to draft it, then it must be served on prosecutor and filed with the court. This takes another half hour at least. The motion must then be argued in court which may take between an hour and three hours depending upon the motion and the court’s calendar.
If the motion is not dispositive (resulting in a dismissal) then the case must be litigated further and settlement discussions continued at a future court or dates. This may take another 2 to 6 hours depending upon the number of times we have to go back to court, and this is all before we ever answer ready for trial. This also does not factor in any private investigation, expert witness consultation or private lab analysis.
According to my math this amounts to between a low end of about 5 hours and a high end of about 20 hours without any post-conviction hours. Please note that this time estimate only accounts for talking to the client a couple times about their case. This does not include helping the client with things like getting a restricted license, installing an ignition interlock device, and many other essential communications.
If we take an average between high and low, we get 12.5 hours of my time to do a very minimal job on my client’s case. If we divide the original $2,500 fee by the number of hours we end up with $200 per hour of work. I know this may sound like a lot of money to many people, but from this I must pay for my office rent, my secretary, my telephone lines, my State Bar license, continuing education, research material, transportation, gas, parking and many other expenses associated with running a business.
In summary, I believe that if a client wants me to be able to do the best job possible for them on their case, they must give me the tools in which to perform. The client must pay me a fee that is sufficient to allow me to dedicate enough of my time and attention to their case so that I am able to get the client the best possible results…the results my clients deserve.