Monday, May 23, 2011

The Criminal Lawyer's Flat Fee

Folks often wonder why I charge so much for my legal services. Why aren't legal fees more affordable, they wonder. You're killing me, they say. The truth is, when compared to fees charged by lawyers in civil firms with comparable experience, my fees are reasonably priced. What's more, my fees are predictable because I charge by the case. That is, I charge a flat, or fixed, fee. The flat fee is probably the best way for criminal defense lawyers to make quality legal fees affordable to the paying public. And the flat fee is simply that . . . a fixed fee as compared to an hourly fee, which is more unpredictable. So how does the flat fee make legal services more affordable to the client? Well, let's take a look at how an hourly fee might stack up against, let's say, a $4,500.00 flat fee for services in a typical DWI refusal case.

On a simple DWI an attorney will, at least, defend the administrative license revocation (ALR) hearing and appear at several court dates – let’s assume three court appearances, which in my experience is on the low end. Assume with travel time and waiting time in court, each court appearance is a half hour. For the ALR, first we must request the hearing, then request the discovery, then review the discovery, then go to a hearing. Let’s just assume it’s 2.0 hours for all of that. Initial interview? Let’s assume an hour. Watching the video with the client will be another hour for purposes of our hypothetical. In all, we have about 4 hours invested.

But what if there were a possible suppression issue needing a couple hours of research? Add two hours. That gets us to six. And if we actually litigate the motion to suppress, add another two hours. That gets us to eight. What if we must make five total court appearances? Now we are at 10 hours invested. Believe me, these time estimates are on the low end of reasonable. If any experienced criminal lawyer actually counted their hours in a case they'd be surprised how quickly the time adds up.

Let's build on the hypothetical. Let’s assume a board certified criminal lawyer with 15 or so years’ experience. She wants $350 per hour. Let’s assume also the more reasonable scenario of the time counted above, plus the modest preparation time of one hour out-of-court per one hour in-court and about four hours invested into the suppression issue. At $350 dollars per hour, that makes about 15 hours or so, (if my math is correct) or a total bill for fees of $5,250.00. This does not include the lawyer's out-of-pocket costs for online research, etc., which are typically absorbed by the lawyer and not charged out to the client.

So, when comparing the hypothetical hourly fee against the $4,500.00 flat fee, we see the flat fee is a bargain. Beyond this, in many cases the criminal lawyer will include any trial fee within their flat fee, which makes the flat fee all the more economical for clients.

Consequently, when folks ask me why I'm killing them with fees, I trust they see their advantage when paying a predictable, reasonable, and yes, affordable attorney fee to obtain the best defense against their criminal charges.

2 comments:

Flat Fee Lawyer said...

Criminal law is also its own beast, unique from other types of cases.
In an uncontested divorce, there is the initial filing of the divorce papers and then the prove-up hearing after a short while. Likely one hearing. Same goes for some civil cases (especially suits on sworn account).
Like you say, in prosecutions, there are many more hearings and much more legwork that needs to get done than in most civil suits.
I also think one of the reasons why flat fees are especially important in criminal law is related to the nature of criminal proceedings (life and limb at stake, rather than just money), and, like you say, doesn't make the client choose between paying a hefty fee to go to trial or taking a plea deal.

shanecastane said...

If you are thinking of just going with the lawyer that the government would provide when you don't hire one, then think twice. If you want to end up in jail then go ahead. Those lawyers are all swamped cases that they might only review your case once they are inside the courtroom.

You should look for a lawyer that specializes in the field that you are being accused. Hawaii Criminal Lawyers OR Hawaii DUI have many specializations and there are further sub-specializations under that. Just because one is a criminal lawyer does not mean they would be the best one for you.