How much do criminal defense lawyers charge?

Question: How much should I spend on a lawyer? Do they charge flat or hourly fees? How much is fair and reasonable?

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Fees Charged By Criminal Defense Attorneys

Attorney Fee Right Amount

One thing is for sure when someone is looking around for a criminal defense lawyer and interviewing several potential attorneys, the amount of the potential legal fees is likely to fluctuate widely. The ways that attorneys charge fees can vary significantly between attorneys. In many cases, the fees charged by criminal defense attorneys directly correlate to a lawyer’s experience, skill, and reputation.

Different Cases, Difference Clients, Different Fees

A criminal case, whether felony or misdemeanor, can be broken down into several parts. Depending on how specific an attorney wants to be in their contract, the agreement can be very general or specific. For example, a felony has the following parts:

  • pre-charge,
  • district court proceedings,
  • circuit court proceedings,
  • trial preparation, 
  • trial, and
  • appeal.

Fees charged by some criminal defense attorneys break down into specific parts, including:

  • pre-charge,
  • district court arraignment,
  • pre-exam conference,
  • preliminary examination,
  • district court motions,
  • arraignment on the information in circuit court,
  • pretrial conferences,
  • motions in circuit court,
  • evidentiary hearings,
  • scheduling or docket conferences,
  • trial preparation,
  • bench trial,
  • jury trial, and
  • sentencing.

There are many ways that criminal defense attorneys can charge legal fees under the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct. For example, criminal defense attorneys can charge (1) one flat fee for an entire case, (2) a flat fee for each stage of a case, (3) an hourly fee, (4) a flat, nonrefundable fee, (5) a flat, nonrefundable engagement fee with an hourly component, etc. There are so many options that a person can become very confused under the stress of a recent criminal allegation or charge.

The Criminal Defense Attorney’s Fee Structure Should Take Into Consideration What is Best for the Client

Different fee arrangements may be appropriate for different situations depending on a particular person’s situation and financial circumstances. In other words, the fees charged by criminal defense attorneys can change based on the potential impact a conviction can have on a person’s career, family, reputation, immigration status, or professional license.

Generally, a couple of fee structures best fit most situations. For example, on a pre-charge basis, if you hire an attorney to work on a case to avoid criminal charges or negotiate a surrender before an arrest, an upfront flat fee with an hourly component may be the best option. A flat fee would potentially work because it would be paid and cover legal fees up to a certain number of hours. If things get complicated and take more time than anticipated, the legal fees would switch hourly. If someone has limited financial resources, they may prefer a criminal defense attorney works on a flat fee that covers them no matter how much time goes into the case. A flat fee structure assures the client that they will have full legal representation throughout the process and will not fear getting into a situation where additional legal fees become due. The fees charged by a criminal defense attorney must be affordable; however, you do not want to trust your fate to the lowest bidder.

Flat Fees Per Hearing Can Spiral Out of Control

If there is an felony or misdemeanor charge, a legal fee structure that can quickly get out of control is the one referenced above, which calls for a charge for each type of hearing. When an attorney charges for each hearing, as in the example, fees can get out of control because many hearings are adjourned or repeated. For example, there can be 4 or 5, or even more pre-trials in one case. If the client pays a separate fee for each hearing, the fees can spiral out of control. Although many lawyers are honest and will not take advantage of a client, the fact remains that some attorneys, like some people in every profession, will take advantage when given the opportunity. This fee structure is too loose and provides too much incentive for some attorneys to schedule unnecessary hearings.

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Modified Flat Fees Charged by Criminal Defense Attorneys – Usually Best For the Client

The fee structure that tends to work best in most cases is the flat attorney fee structure based on the stages of the case.

The example above that identified this structure was the one where the Fee Agreement breaks the representation down and separates the fees for the following portions of the case:

With this structure, it doesn’t matter how long a case is at a particular stage, the fee does not fluctuate, and the client knows in advance their financial exposure. The overwhelming majority of clients working with LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. have been most comfortable with this fee structure. One exception to this general rule is for clients who only want to hire a criminal defense attorney on a pre-charge basis. Under these circumstances, there might not be a way to accurately predict how much time may go into a pre-charge situation. In cases where there is no way to predict the investment of time into a case, the best option may be the smaller flat fee upfront with an hourly component that kicks in if the legal time exceeds a preset number of hours.

Hourly Fees – Rare for State Felony and Misdemeanor Cases

Few retained criminal defense attorneys charge simply by the hour for state felony and misdemeanor cases. However, a hybrid flat/hourly fee structure is standard in federal criminal cases. Civil attorneys, business attorneys, and divorce lawyers frequently charge by the hour, with no flat fee component. Coincidentally, most criminal defense clients charged with local and state charges are uncomfortable with an hourly fee arrangement. Individuals facing criminal charges generally do not want to hire a criminal defense lawyer on an hourly basis because attorney fees can accumulate without limitation, and the client’s exposure will be unpredictable. Legal fees can accumulate and increase to an unsustainable level with purely hourly rates. Facing criminal charges is stressful enough. A client should not also have to worry about unaffordable legal fees. With most lawyers, when a client cannot afford to pay their fees, the attorney then asks the court to withdraw from the case. If the attorney withdraws from the client’s case, the client might get stuck with a court-appointed lawyer (a situation that many people would find unacceptable).

Criminal Defense Attorney vs. General Practice Attorney

Many retained lawyers who charge by the hour on state cases are not criminal defense specialists. Hourly rate lawyers are more likely general practice lawyers. If you face a state felony or misdemeanor criminal charge, you want a lawyer who exclusively handles criminal cases. Think of this analogy, if you need heart surgery, will you seek treatment from a brain surgeon? Of course, you would want to see a heart surgeon, not a doctor specializing in a different area of medicine. Both are doctors, but the heart surgeon is in the best position to provide specialized care and has the most skill and knowledge relative to the heart’s intricacies.

Similarly, the criminal defense lawyer is much more likely to know the intricacies of a criminal defense case and how to defend against criminal allegations effectively. The sections of the Michigan Court Rules that apply to criminal cases and criminal appeals differ from civil cases’ rules. Furthermore, there are tried and true criminal defense techniques. A general practice lawyer would not likely be proficient in these specialized skills and tactics. Finally, an experienced successful criminal defense attorney probably spent years developing relationships with criminal docket judges, prosecutors, and court staff that will help them navigate the complex waters of criminal defense work. A general practice lawyer would not have these essential connections.

Attorney Fees Must Be Ethical, and Agreements Should be in Writing

As it relates to the setting up of the structure of legal fees and the amount that a lawyer can charge for legal fees, the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct provide general guidelines that lawyers must follow. Although getting a Fee Agreement or contract in writing might not be ethically required, you should never hire a lawyer without a written contract. You should be very suspicious of any lawyer who does not offer a written legal fee agreement. The contract should be in writing for everyone’s protection.

You Get What You Pay For – Great Lawyers Achieve Great Results

Based on these guidelines, many factors get weighed to determine if a fee is reasonable. The price will likely vary widely based on the type of attorney. Lawyers who deal in volume, court-appointed cases or who tend to convince their clients to plead guilty without putting up a fight tend to charge lower fees than successful lawyers who are known to fight, be thorough, and stop at nothing to achieve the best possible result. Unfortunately, the rule that applies to most things in life also applies to lawyers, meaning you tend to get what you pay for.

Generally, the principle of “you get what you pay for” means that the quality of representation is commensurate with how much a lawyer charges; however, this is not always the case. The client must be an informed consumer.

Some Top Lawyers Charge Fair and Affordable Legal Fees

Lawyers who charge the most significant fees may not provide a level of service that would justify their fees for many cases when other, well-known, respected lawyers may handle the case for a lesser price. Gouging does happen, and you should research a lawyer to ensure he is as good as his fee would indicate. Google is an excellent place to research a prospective attorney’s reputation. Furthermore, services such as Avvo, SuperLawyers, and Martindale Hubbell are great places to double-check a lawyer’s qualifications.

Consider lawyers who charge bargain-basement fees with extreme caution and wariness. There is a reason that they are charging the lowest fees, and it probably is not that they are charitable and benevolent. It more likely means they are desperate for work or practice a quantity over quality type practice. You will want a skilled criminal defense lawyer to represent you on criminal charges. Also, you will want to make sure they have an excellent reputation, are highly regarded by prior clients, and are determined to put as much time and energy into a case as necessary to achieve the best possible result. Make no mistake, you can find a low-cost, fair attorney who will do a great job on your case and provide top-level service.

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An Unusually High or Low Fee Can Be a Warning Sign

The bottom line is that if you hire a lawyer, spending a decent but fair amount of money on a good and reasonable attorney is a necessary evil. Undoubtedly, a defense attorney who is genuinely willing to fight, highly skilled, and truly cares is invaluable in a criminal case. That is the kind of care, dedication, and zealousness you can expect from the attorneys with Michigan’s premier criminal defense law firm. LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. has a reputation for

Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete an online Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.

We will find a way to help you and, most importantly,
we are not afraid to win!

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The Rules of Professional Conduct

Michigan Rule of Professional Conduct 1.5 governs attorney fees and states as follows:

(a) A lawyer shall not enter into an agreement for, charge, or collect an
illegal or clearly excessive fee. A fee is clearly excessive when, after a review of the facts, a lawyer of ordinary prudence would be left with a definite and firm conviction that the fee is in excess of a reasonable fee. The factors to be considered in determining the reasonableness of a fee include the following:

(1) the time and labor required, the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved, and the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly;
(2) the likelihood, if apparent to the client, that the acceptance of the particular employment will preclude other employment by the lawyer;
(3) the fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services;
(4) the amount involved and the results obtained;
(5) the time limitations imposed by the client or by the circumstances;
(6) the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client;
(7) the experience, reputation, and ability of the lawyer or lawyers performing the services; and
(8) whether the fee is fixed or contingent.

(b) When the lawyer has not regularly represented the client, the basis or rate of the fee shall be communicated to the client, preferably in writing, before or within a reasonable time after commencing the representation.

(c) A fee may be contingent on the outcome of the matter for which the service is rendered, except in a matter in which a contingent fee is prohibited by paragraph (d) or by other law. A contingent-fee agreement shall be in writing and shall state the method by which the fee is to be determined. Upon conclusion of a contingent-fee matter, the lawyer shall provide the client with a written statement of the outcome of the matter and, if there is a recovery, show the remittance to the client and the method of its determination. See also MCR 8.121 for additional requirements applicable to some contingent-fee agreements.

(d) A lawyer shall not enter into an arrangement for, charge, or collect:

(1) any fee in a domestic relations matter, the payment or amount of which is contingent upon the securing of a divorce or upon the amount of alimony or support, or property settlement in lieu thereof, the lawyer’s success, results obtained, value added, or any factor to be applied that leaves the client unable to discern the basis or rate of the fee or the method by which the fee is to be determined, or
(2) a contingent fee for representing a defendant in a criminal case.

(e) A division of a fee between lawyers who are not in the same firm may be made only if:

(1) the client is advised of and does not object to the participation of all the lawyers involved; and
(2) the total fee is reasonable.