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Paying for a Criminal Defense Lawyer: 3 Things to Know About Fees

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

While experienced criminal defense attorneys are essential to your success, you may run into various ways in which attorneys wish to be paid their fees.

Criminal lawyers may charge a flat fee for something like a basic DUI, or they may charge an hourly rate that requires a substantial down payment. If you're a repeat offender or facing charges that are likely to go to trial, you may be looking at some steep attorney's fees.

Don't fret though, criminal defense attorney's fees can be easy to understand with these principles:

  • Know someone who has been arrested or charged with a crime? Get in touch with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney in your area today.

1. Location, Location, Location.

This may not surprise you, but where you seek a criminal defense attorney will likely have an effect on his or her fees. Hiring a criminal defense attorney in a heavily populated metro area like New York City, Atlanta, or Chicago will likely be pricier than seeking criminal defense help in suburban or rural areas.

While it may be tempting to go with a cheaper attorney a few towns over, remember that one of the benefits of a local criminal defense attorney is knowledge of the local courts and prosecutors.

2. Going to Trial Will Cost You.

Many attorneys will have separate fee structures for dealing with cases that involve a trial. If your case can be resolved with a plea bargain at the very early pre-trial stages, then it's likely to cost you much less in attorney's fees. Trials are expensive because they require attorneys to put in many more hours to prepare for and investigate your case, and may involve other expenses like paying for expert witnesses.

3. You'll Typically Pay Fees Upfront.

Unlike personal injury attorneys, who may work on a contingency basis, private criminal attorneys will rarely take you on as a client without some sort of payment. The most common fee structures for defense attorneys include:

  • Flat fees, i.e., payment upfront for the entirety of the case (even including trial). Flat fees may run into the thousands of dollars, even for a first-time DUI.
  • "Retainer." You pay your attorney a lump sum which guarantees a certain amount of the attorney's time (e.g., $2,000 for 10 hours of work at $200/hour).
  • Hourly rate. Some attorneys may charge an hourly rate and may invoice you for their time at regular intervals (e.g., every month).

It may seem daunting to fork over any amount of cash before seeing results on your criminal case, but unless you can procure a public defender, attorney's fees are just a reality.

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