How to Find the Best Criminal Defense Attorney
Advice from a San Diego criminal defense attorney on how to find the best criminal defense attorney for your case.
Define Your Criminal Defense Budget
Cost is perhaps the single biggest factor when it comes to a person deciding to hire a criminal defense attorney. Less than 1% of the country has the means to say that money is no object when hiring a criminal defense attorney, the rest of us need to budget. Of course finding a criminal defense attorney's rates online are next to impossible as almost no attorney advertises their pricing schedule. Even if a criminal defense attorney did publish their rates, it would be impossible for you to estimate the lawyer's quote of the overall level of work that would be required for your particular criminal matter - criminal defense is a very fact-specific process and the price a criminal defense lawyer will charge you depends mostly on the specific facts of your case.
How to Determine the Cost of a Criminal Lawyer
Most criminal defense attorneys will perform cases for flat fees. Some may charge hourly. There are advantages and disadvantages to both systems of billing.
Flat Fee - Case by Case Basis
The advantage of a flat fee arrangement with an attorney is that you know upfront exactly what your costs are going to be, and there will not be any overages. The attorney is bearing the risk of unforeseen complications. For example, a simple status conference hearing could result in the attorney waiting in court for 3 hours for something that really should take 10 minutes if the system is working correctly.
If your case concludes quickly, you may feel like you over-paid. The other disadvantage is that attorneys who do flat fee arrangements usually split the bill into two parts: pre-trial costs, and trial costs. If your attorney is not able to obtain a satisfactory plea bargain or settlement offer, you may have to go to trial and incurr additional costs.
Hourly Basis - "A retainer"
Paying by the hour benefits clients whose cases are quickly resolved. Older attorney's may charge a "true retainer." Be carefull to look for this language in your agreement. A true retainer means that even if your attorney gets your case dismissed with a single phone call, they can keep your entire retainer.
Most attorneys want your case to be finished quickly - a happy client is likely to lead to more clients.
The primary disadvantage to an hourly billing arrangement is that the client bears the risk for unforseen events and the attorney can, and will, bill you for every minute they spend working on your case (including time in the shower thinking about your case).
Average Cost of Criminal Defense Services
Again, it is almost impossible to find an attorney who advertises their rates. There are several reasons. First, many attorneys are willing to work with people and adjust their rates so that they can afford their services. A happy client leads to more happy clients, and a happy client (not your money), is the goal of the best attorneys in San Diego. Many people are price-sensitive and often go with the lowest cost attorney (a big mistake). Attorneys are afraid that if they advertise their rates, that another attorney will simply undercut them to steal their potential business. The other risk is that a potential client is unhappy when you quote them a rate higher than what is advertised becaues they have a complex case and they do not understand why you cannot quote them the price on your website.
Average Cost of a Misdemeanor Defense
On average, a simple misdemeanor should cost you no more than $10,000. Many attorney's have sliding scales, but here is the cost breakdown of a misdemeanor criminal defense.
Your pre-trial cost covers:
Cost of obtaining discovery from the District Attorney
Unlimited phone calls to your attorney who will answer your every question on your case
A thorough review of your case and a trial plan (between 40-80 hours of work)
Time spent negotiating with the District Attorney to dismiss your case or offer you an infraction (no criminal record) if available.
Expert Fees (if applicable).
Trial Cost: $3,000 - $4,500
The vast majority of trials (nearly 90%) take less than 3 days from start to finish. Attorneys who charge flat fees typically charge trial costs on a per day basis. This fee ranges anywhere from $1,000 per day, to $5,000 per day depending on the attorney you hire.
Average Cost of a Felony Defense
Again, on average, this varies greatly depending on the attorney you speak with and their experience, as well as the complexity of your case. As a general rule of thumb, felony pre-trial cost is approximately $10,000 per felony count. (Meaning if you are facing 8 felony counts, you may be looking at $80,000 in pre-trial costs alone). However attorneys realize that many criminal charges overlap and may be different criminal charges for the same action, (for example, if you steal from your employer you could be charged with both grand theft and embezzlement - but you can only be sentenced on one of those charges because they are charges that account for the same act - the act of stealing from an employer.)
Sometimes it is necessary to hire an expert for your criminal defense. Experts tend to have their own rates, however an experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to give you a good estimate of what you can expect to pay, as well as who the best experts for your case are.
How to Evaluate Your Potential Attorney
Assuming you find three attorneys who cost roughly the same, how do you evaluate which attorney is the best for your case?
Nearly every criminal defense attorney will offer a free consultation lasting anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. This is an opportunity for you to tell them the specific facts of their case and ask them some questions that will help you evaluate whether you should hire them to represent you in your criminal matter.
Does the potential attorney you are meeting with have interns, law clerks or associate attorneys? If yes, will they be working on your case and what percentage of your case will be handled by someone other than the attorney you are meeting with.
At the Law Office of Nicholas J. Moore, Mr. Moore is the only attorney who will work your case. You will never be handed off to an intern, law clerk or associate.
Nearly every criminal law case is fact specific. Ask your criminal defense attorney if they have handled your type of case before, and ask them about the extent of their experience with cases similar to yours. Nicholas Moore is an experienced and award winning criminal defense attorney who has handled criminal law cases ranging from simple misdemeanors to major felonies including homicides and multi-million dollar grand theft and embezzlement cases.