There are usually three ways attorneys are paid by private clients. Those are:
- The hourly fee model,
- The contingency or percentage fee model, and
- The flat fee model.
Some attorneys are also paid in some combination of these methods.
Hourly Rates Explained
For lawyers who are paid on an hourly fee, a retainer deposit is usually paid in advance, which the attorney places in a trust account. The attorney will then withdraw their earned legal fees from the retainer. If any portion of the retainer is unearned at the end of representation, it is returned to the client.
An attorney charges $350.00 per hour and they perform two hours of work. They would be entitled to be paid $700.00. If only two hours of work are performed but a larger retainer was given to the attorney, the attorney would return the rest of the retainer to the client.
Contingent Fees Explained
When lawyers who are paid on a contingency or a percentage basis, they are compensated when they recover money for their client. They will take a percentage of whatever they recover.
A client is injured in an automobile accident and retains an attorney on a continency basis. The contingency agreement provides that the attorney will keep 33% of the recovery.
If the attorney recovers $30,000.00 for their client, the attorney would be entitled to be paid $10,000.00 and the client would receive the remaining $20,000.00.
This kind of arrangement is common is civil cases because, in the event the attorney does not make any financial recovery, the client usually pays nothing.
Importantly, however, Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys cannot be paid on a contingency basis for two reasons. First, the American Bar Association rule 1.5(d) prohibits contingency agreements in criminal defense cases.
Contingency agreements with attorneys in criminal defense matters are considered unethical (or at the very least create a very large ethical concern) because the attorney’s compensation would be tied to the result of their client’s case and may not be in the client’s best interests.
The second reason is practical. Contingency agreements are not generally viable in criminal defense cases because no money is recovered at the end of a criminal defense case.
Flat Fee Agreements
The vast majority of criminal defense attorneys in Los Angeles will charge a flat or fixed rate for each stage of your case. In lengthy or complex cases, an hourly fee model is usually used.
In a flat fee agreement, a single fixed price is paid to the attorney for a particular stage of the case. The attorney will then perform as much work as it takes to complete that portion of the work, without regard to the time spent on those tasks.
Many criminal clients prefer this type of agreement because it limits the amount of financial exposure they will have for a case. If the amount of work is larger than the attorney expected, the client is protected because the flat fee does change based on the time the attorney spends.
Prices Are Based on the Facts of YOUR Case
Every person facing a criminal charge will have a different fact pattern and different goals. For example, a person may be concerned about the possibility of a criminal conviction because it would hurt their reputation, opportunities for employment, or prevent career licensing.
For others, minimizing jail time is their priority because they have to maintain employment, or care for children or older parents.
Because no two cases are the same and every person’s needs are different, a consultation is required to determine the legal fees appropriate to achieve your goals. Every new client requires the attorney to do the following:
- Analyze the time and effort required to research the law and prepare an effective defense strategy.
- Identify whether any legal arguments can be utilized in the client’s defense.
- Evaluate the strength or weaknesses of the physical or circumstantial evidence against the client.
- Determine the strength or weaknesses of the witnesses in support of or against the client.
- Consider whether an expert can assist in arguing that a reasonable doubt of guilt exists.
- Examine whether a private investigator can find facts to support the case or find weaknesses in the evidence against the client.
- Make a judgment call on the best course of action.
Misdemeanor and Felony Case Pricing
As can be seen, pricing can vary quite a bit, depending on the specific facts of the case. To give you a general sense of what a criminal defense attorney costs, the following prices are instructive:
- Open misdemeanor cases will generally cost between $1,500.00 and $6,500.00 for attorney fees. But the fees might be higher or lower depending on the circumstances of the case.
- Open felony cases will generally cost between $4,500.00 to $15,000.00 for attorney fees. Complex cases, capital cases, or felonies involving a potential life sentence will usually be higher.
Post-Conviction Legal Fees
The most common post-conviction legal services are for expungement of criminal records and criminal convictions. Other post-conviction legal services include removing bench warrants, addressing probation violations, and modifying a criminal record.
Post-conviction legal services range from $750.00 to $4,500.00—depending on the complexity of the issue, and required effort needed to achieve the client’s goals.
Additional Expenses in Criminal Cases
In many cases, the use of a private investigator can help verify or weaken the evidence used against you. A reputable and diligent private investigator usually charges between $125 to $175 per hour, and will usually spend a minimum of three to five hours per case.
Certain types of cases require the use of experts to examine the strength of the evidence. The most common experts in criminal defense cases are:
- Alcohol and drug consultants,
- Forensic accountants, and
- Physicians or medical doctors.
The most common expense in criminal cases are usually related to subpoenas of witnesses, the serving of subpoenas and subpoenaing police officers.
We, at the Law Offices of Justin Lo, accept payments by cash, checks, and credit cards.
In some cases, we may accept payment plans, but that decision will depend on the case and client’s specific circumstances.
Case Reviews and Free Consultations
I offer a no fee consultation that lasts up to 20 minutes. Please call (310) 248-2944 to schedule an appointment to discuss the options and strategies in your case.