Why Don’t Criminal Defense Lawyers Charge by the Hour?
Most potential clients ask about my fees before they hire me. In almost every case, I am required to provide the client with a retainer or fee agreement showing the client exactly what they are getting and exactly what they are paying. The agreement lays out the terms, whether hourly or flat fee. It lays out the location and type of case. It even details the extent of the work, especially if the agreement is limited in scope.
Most criminal and DUI defense lawyers in California charge flat fees. I’m not really sure why this is, except that the practice started long before I ever went to law school and will continue until long after my retirement. This said, I take on most clients on a flat fee basis. Sometimes, clients feel that they want me to work on an hourly basis instead. This is fine with me. I will normally be happy to take a “retainer” fee and bill against it at my hourly rate. As a 25 year veteran criminal defense lawyer, I normally charge $450 per hour for my time. Some cases may be a little less and some a little more. There may also be expenses associated with the representation: Parking, copies, investigation, expert witnesses and more. These costs are paid by the client on top of any agreed upon fees.
But which is really better for the client, the flat fee or the hourly fee?
I feel that in most cases the flat fee benefits the client. Let’s take the last two years as an example. In the last 24 months, many criminal cases have been delayed. Some by as much as years. Many by as much as months. Trials were delayed. Preliminary hearings were delayed. Many prosecutors were working remotely and didn’t have immediate access to their electronic files. This delayed the discovery process, i.e. Me getting my evidence. When we finally do get our discovery and do go to court, we often deal with revolving prosecutors, waiting to get settlement offers from supervisors and other delays in the process. In a flat fee case, this becomes my problem. In an hourly case, every delay costs the client more money.
Today I went to court and my judge was not there. A judge from a different courtroom was standing in. It would be malpractice to have put my client on probation to the stand-in judge. That would be setting him up to go to prison. Last week I went to court to find another stand-in judge. I wanted to settle my case but the stand-in refused to go along with the offer the regular judge wrote in her file. Again it would have been malpractice to go along with a worse deal for the client rather than simply come back another time.
Clients do benefit from hourly cases in a few areas. First, if a case is rejected, it will certainly save the client money. If a case is settled early, it could save the client a few bucks. Another area that could help is in spreading out the cost over a greater timeline. Many lawyers want their fee all up front. This may be difficult for people who are working for a living and have a lot of expenses. After all, most people don’t plan for or save up for getting arrested. Thus, if someone wants to hire me on a serious felony case and I tell them I need $50,000 to start, it may send them packing. But, if I tell them I need $10,000 to start, and I will bill hourly against the retainer, the first ten grand may last for quite some time. Then, a few months down the road when the retainer is running low, the client may well have his resources replenished and be able to continue to pay monthly bills without devastating his finances.
Do be mindful that many lawyers quote fees through preliminary hearing only. This can be very confusing to a non-lawyer who is not familiar with the criminal justice system. If a lawyer takes a fee only through prelim, and then doesn’t settle the case, he may seek to get relieved (off the case) after the prelim. This leaves the client flapping in the breeze with no lawyer, and possibly no money either. Please be clear with your potential lawyer on the issue of how far he plans to take the case and not just what the initial fee is going to cost.
Personally, I like to treat my clients in the manner I would want to be treated if our places were reversed. I don’t know what kind of financial resources most of my clients have. Communication can be an excellent means for working out things like attorney fees. It’s ok to ask your lawyer if he will take payments. It’s ok to ask your lawyer if he will bill you hourly instead of taking a flat fee. Remember that your lawyer works for you. It’s not the other way around. Without you, the client, your lawyer would likely be out selling insurance for a living.
If you have been arrested for or are being investigated for any crime including DUI, please exercise your right to remain silent and call me:
Attorney Jeffrey Vallens (818) 783-5700 or email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please visit my sites for more information:
www.4criminaldefense.com or www.westlakecriminaldefense.com