On average, a criminal defense attorney costs $300 an hour, but how much you’ll pay can vary greatly depending on your case. Some clients pay $150 an hour, and others pay $350 an hour.
Criminal defense attorney cost:
|National average hourly rate
|Low-end hourly rate
|High-end hourly rate
Because your total cost can depend on multiple factors, including the type of criminal charges (felony vs. a misdemeanor, for example) brought against you, it’s important to understand how defense attorneys set their fee structure and what your legal costs might include. Read this guide to find out how much it would cost to hire a criminal attorney, and learn how to find a top-rated lawyer near you.
What’s in this cost guide?
Depending on the attorney, you might have the option of paying an hourly fee, flat fee and other types of fees. Here’s a quick overview of a defense attorney’s fee structure.
Your defense attorney may ask for an initial retainer. This is an up-front advance payment that the attorney will draw from to cover your legal fees as the work is completed. Retainers can vary, depending on the lawyer’s hourly rate and the complexity of the case.
Hourly billing is not the only fee structure a criminal defense attorney might use. Although it’s not as common, some defense lawyers might charge fixed flat fees for certain criminal cases, such as a DWI or a simple infraction.
On average, the fixed cost to hire a defense attorney $2,000-$3,000. However, some lawyers charge as much as $7,500-$10,000.
Criminal defense attorney cost (fixed):
|National average cost
|Average cost range
|Low-end cost range
|High-end cost range
A flat fee arrangement can have pros and cons. While it can give you the certainty of knowing how much you will be paying for representation in your criminal case, a flat fee may be nonrefundable. So if your case moves fast, you may end up paying more in legal fees than you would have if you were billed hourly.
Don’t be surprised if you have to pay for court fees, filing fees, expert witness fees, investigator fees and more.
An experienced criminal defense attorney can often determine how much time and work will need to go into a case, depending on the charge. Misdemeanor and felony charges vary by state, but generally, a defendant charged with a misdemeanor likely won’t pay as much as someone who needs legal representation for a felony.
If you’ve been arrested or are facing prosecution for a crime, it’s important to hire a defense attorney who can guide you through the legal process, explain your rights and options, and defend your case. It’s often best to hire a lawyer as soon as you’ve been accused of a crime to ensure your rights are protected. A good criminal defense lawyer may be able to negotiate with the prosecutor to have your charges reduced or dropped entirely.
Criminal defense attorney fees can add up quickly. Here are a few ways you might be able to save money on attorney costs:
Find out if you qualify for legal aid
Depending on your financial circumstance, you might qualify for affordable or free legal aid. Also known as public defenders, these attorneys are assigned by the court to represent someone in a criminal case if they can’t afford an attorney.
However, because public defenders often juggle many cases at a time, you may want to retain a private attorney if your case is especially complex and time-consuming.
Talk with your attorney about payment plans
The best way to make sure you save money on legal fees is to discuss payment plan options with your attorney. Your defense lawyer may be willing to work with you to develop a billing plan or charge you one flat fee for your case.
Although an attorney may be willing to structure a payment plan, be aware that defense lawyers aren’t typically allowed to charge contingent fees for a criminal case.
Know what you’re being billed for
Another way to save money on lawyer fees is to make sure you understand what you’ll be responsible for paying. Attorneys who charge by the hour bill for every task associated with your case. This includes work done in the office, as well as for court appearances.
There will be times you absolutely need to speak with your attorney, but you might be charged for short phone calls or emails whenever you check-in for a status update. It’s a good idea to keep these kinds of calls to a minimum to help save money on criminal attorney fees.
Contacting law firms and choosing a criminal defense lawyer might feel overwhelming. In addition to considering the cost, you should pick an attorney with the right experience and someone with whom you can have a good attorney-client relationship. Before scheduling an initial consultation, it’s important to do your due diligence on qualified criminal defense lawyers in your area.
Here are a few steps you can take to make sure you hire the best criminal defense attorney for your case:
Step 1: Compare pros online
Do a search for law firms and criminal defense attorneys near you and take some time to go through the results. Look for ones who have experience handling the specific charges you’re facing. Some attorneys exclusively handle DWIs. Others may only take felony cases. Once you’ve made your list, narrow it down to five or six attorneys you would like to contact.
Step 2: Schedule a consultation
Many lawyers offer consultations (sometimes free, sometimes with a fee) to discuss your legal options and help you decide if hiring an attorney is the best route to take. If you don’t want to travel to meet with the lawyer, ask if they can come to you or if you can have the consultation via a video chat or phone call.
Step 3: Get free quotes
Message or call each defense lawyer to ask about their rates and find out what a case like yours might cost. Keep in mind that cost should not be the sole determining factor in choosing the right attorney to represent you in a criminal case. Lawyers with many years of practice may charge more per hour but work quickly. If a lawyer charges a low fee, they may not have as much experience, but they can still be very qualified to handle your case.
Step 4: Check credentials and licenses
An attorney's experience level can make all the difference in your case’s outcome. Check to see how long the attorney has been licensed, what their acquittal rate is and how many years they’ve been practicing criminal law. Even if an attorney is highly skilled in civil law, it doesn’t mean they will be a good fit to represent you in a criminal court.
Step 5: Read client reviews
A good defense attorney should have online testimonials. Look at the reviews from other clients and defendants. What did they have to say about the attorney? Were they satisfied with the representation? Hearing about another client’s firsthand experience can give you a good idea of what kind of representation you can expect to receive.
Step 6: Ask questions
The best way to pick the right lawyer for your case is to ask questions. Navigating the criminal justice system can be stressful and you likely have a lot of concerns that need to be addressed. Don’t be afraid to voice them. For example, you can ask:
- Where did you study law?
- How long have you been licensed and practicing criminal law?
- Have you handled my type of case before?
- What’s your acquittal rate and how many of your cases have gone to trial?
- How long do you think my case will take?
- What do I need to do to prepare?
- Who else will be working on my case?
- How often can we communicate?
- Can I get a written overview of how I will be billed for your legal services?
If you need more tips on how to choose a criminal defense lawyer, visit Thumbtack’s Safety page.
Having effective legal representation is crucial in any criminal defense matter. If you’re being charged as a criminal, search for the best defense attorneys near you on Thumbtack and schedule a consultation today.
Here are answers to some questions you might have about hiring a criminal defense lawyer.
What happens if you can’t afford a lawyer?
If your income is at a certain threshold and you can’t afford to pay for criminal defense, you can ask the court to assign you a public defender. These lawyers are appointed by the court and provide legal representation at no cost to you, but they might request an application fee, according to the American Bar Association.
Should I get a lawyer before being charged?
Whether you’ve been arrested, you’re being investigated or you're accused of being a criminal, there's no harm in consulting with a defense lawyer right away. They can help you understand what you should and should not say during an investigation.