Criminal defense attorneys represent clients charged with misdemeanor and felony offenses, such as possession of drugs, theft or robbery, probation or parole offense, physical or aggravated assault, or sexual assault. Many lawyers can attend court dates within a matter of days or in the upcoming months. Several factors affect the cost of hiring a defense attorney.
Complexity of case
The complexity and seriousness of the case are the two main factors that affect the cost, says Eric Lim, Attorney at Law in Austin, Texas. Defense attorneys appear in court on behalf of the client, negotiate with the prosecutor and review evidence, among other tasks. The more court appearances, negotiation and review required, the more hours the attorney will invest in the case and the higher the fee to the client.
Some lawyers charge an hourly rate for their services. An hourly rate may be beneficial to clients if the case is cut and dried. But when a case is more complicated and takes more time, the cost can increase quickly. Often when charging by the hour, defense attorneys request a retainer as a deposit that they then work against. For example, if an attorney has a $200 hourly rate, he or she may require a 10-hour retainer of $2,000.
Many lawyers have flat rates for different types of cases. The Law Offices of Albert L. Boasberg in Daly City, California, charges a flat fee so that clients know the total cost upfront. Also, with a flat rate, the attorney does not have to keep detailed notes on every phone call, e-mail, trip to the law library, witness interview, motion, etc. Flat rates vary depending on the nature of the case. For example, the cost for the Law Offices of Albert L. Boasberg to defend a felony greatly depends on the amount of investigation and the number of court appearances required. The law office charges a set rate of $2,500 for most misdemeanors, which are often DUIs.
The criminal history of the client affects the total cost for defense attorney services. The more previous legal trouble clients have had, typically the more preparation, negotiation and representation required by the lawyer. The examples below from Eric Lim, Attorney at Law show how costs can vary for three common criminal defense cases, depending on the severity of crime and criminal history:
Defense for misdemeanor possession of marijuana: $750–$2,000—costs vary depending on the client’s criminal history and amount of marijuana in possession.
Defense for possession of a controlled substance: $3,000–$10,000—costs vary depending on the client’s criminal history and the amount of the controlled substance.
- Defense for theft: $750–$10,000—costs vary depending on the client’s criminal history and the amount of theft.
A firm or lawyer’s reputation affects the cost for services. Lawyers with degrees from prestigious law schools, those with extensive experience in the field and those with a reputation for winning high-profile cases may have higher rates than attorneys who are just starting out.
Where the attorney works affects the cost of services. Different parts of the country have higher or lower hourly fees and flat rates, depending on the cost of living and competition in the area.