Criminal defense attorneys on average cost between $3500 and $4500 nationwide, but multiple factors affect the total cost of legal services. Criminal defense lawyers 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. Experienced lawyers can offer legal advice and attend court dates within a matter of days or in the upcoming months. We spoke to defense attorneys on Thumbtack to understand what affects the cost of hiring a defense attorney.
What's in this cost guide?
- Complexity of the Case
- Fee Structure: Hourly Billing vs Flat Fee
- Attorney Skill and Experience
- Criminal History
- Tips for Hiring a Criminal Defense Attorney
Complexity of the Case
The complexity and seriousness of the criminal case are the two main factors that affect the cost, says Eric Lim, Attorney at Law in Austin, Texas. Because felonies involve a larger time investment by the attorney than misdemeanors, legal fees for felony cases are usually more costly. The more pre-trial time, court appearances, negotiation, and review required on the part of the attorney, the more hours the attorney will invest in the case and the higher the fee to the client.
More complex cases often involve investigation and testimony by expert witnesses, which incur additional fees.
Fee Structure: Hourly Billing vs Flat Fee
Some lawyers bill by the hour 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 skyrocket quickly. Often when charging by the hour, defense attorneys request a retainer fee as a deposit that they then work against. For example, if an attorney has a $200 hourly fee, he or she may require a 10-hour retainer fee of $2,000.
Other attorneys charge flat rates or set fees for different types of cases. Flat fees give the clients upfront knowledge of the total cost of legal services. Also, with a flat rate, the attorney doesn't 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.
Skill and Experience
Experience and background of the criminal lawyer also affect the total cost of legal 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.
An experienced criminal attorney from a reputable law firm can help make sure the criminal charges against the client are appropriate for the crime committed, and help make the case against them.
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.
Tips for Hiring a Criminal Defense Attorney
Prioritize hiring an experienced attorney with a reputable background, and make sure their firm has a solid track record in a relevant area. Ask for a live chat or phone call consultation to get a sense of what the attorney-client relationship could look like.