Billing and Hiring
Frequently Asked Questions
How does billing work?
No matter what type of law it is, hiring a lawyer is not cheap. All lawyers also require being paid in advance. But it’s important to know that the way that criminal defence lawyers do their billing is different from other lawyers.
Most types of lawyers will charge you an hourly rate that is rounded up to fairly small increments, like 5 or 6 minutes. So if they send you a few short emails and you call them a couple times, that might cost you hundreds of dollars. Even a simple job can cost you thousands.
Criminal defence lawyers bill in lump sums, rather than by the hour. You will be billed with several all-inclusive fees, where each step in the process has its own set fee. There is often a fee just to look at your case, or for only the non-trial portion of the work. There will be an additional fee for the trial, and a possibly a fee on top of that for an out-of-town trial.
When you are trying to hire a lawyer, ask about their pricing structure and what they estimate your total cost will be. Be specific. What will I pay if the charges are dropped? What will I pay if this goes to trial? Is there an additional cost for a trial being at a different courthouse than where the lawyer is based? Are there any add-on costs for travel, work done by support staff, or anything else?
You also need to ask about their retainer. This is the amount of money that you pay to them before they start working on your case.
The fee amounts between lawyers can vary widely, so it’s a good idea to call a few to find out what they charge. This part is like buying a car. You need to find one you can afford, but that will also get you where you want to go. The part that’s different from buying a car is that most defence lawyers will not negotiate on their fees.
The part that’s the same as buying a car is that when you’ve agreed to most criminal defence lawyer’s lump sum fee, that’s all you will pay, no matter what happens.
What to look for before you hire your lawyer?
A good lawyer is like a surgeon. You want your surgeon to have steady hands, lots of experience and a lot of successful operations. You want to know that they are good at their job, and trust them to do the right thing to help you. Your lawyer needs to be the same—good at their job, experienced, and doing the right things to help you.
How to choose a lawyer?
Most criminal defence lawyers will give a free initial consultation, so call at least three lawyers, and find one that you can work with. Make sure that they have represented people in similar situations. It’s your life and lifestyle that’s at stake, and choosing your lawyer is one of the most important decisions you’ll make in this whole process.
When you talk to any lawyer in your first consultation, listen closely—see if what they say sounds like answers to what you have told them. Bear in mind, that when you first talk to them, they can’t give you specific advice on the spot. They need to see the disclosure (evidence) before they can do that.
If you really don’t get along with a lawyer the first time you talk to them, don’t hire them. If you don’t think they have enough experience with your type of problem, don’t hire them.
After your first consultation, you should feel like you’ve been heard and that they can help you.
What do you need to do as a client?
Be honest. Your lawyer can’t repeat what you’ve told them to anyone. Your lawyer should be the only person that you should tell everything to. The more they know about the case, the better they can represent you.
Try to stay calm. You’ll be stressed, and that’s perfectly reasonable. But when you talk to your lawyer, try to keep calm and be clear. The more facts you can give them, the better. You’ll also ask them better questions, and get better answers. Your lawyer will advise you and give you options, but you have to choose the path you take.
How do you actually hire a lawyer to be your lawyer?
To officially hire your lawyer, the lawyer will send you paperwork that you will need to sign and send back. You also need to send them the retainer money. No lawyer will do any work for you unless they have the retainer.
Make sure that you carefully read your retainer letter, and if you have questions, ask them. Your lawyer should be happy to give you a clear answer.
If you need some time to send your lawyer the retainer, or if you have to make a couple of separate payments, talk your lawyer about that right away. You don’t want to miss any court deadlines.
How should you be communicating with your lawyer once you’ve hired them?
A lawyer will have dozens of cases going simultaneously, just like a doctor may have literally hundreds of patients. When you go see your doctor, he looks over your file each time before he talks to you.
Lawyers also keep very detailed files on their clients. Your lawyer may need to look over your file to double-check the details of your case, and you will get better service from them if you make appointments to call them. It’s also best if you make a list of the specific things that you want to ask them.
Lawyers also have one or several assistants to help them. The justice system is a scheduling nightmare, and there are mountains of paperwork and digital data to deal with. A lawyer’s assistant is much more than a receptionist and they know a lot about the judicial process, the paperwork, and they will be in control of the lawyer’s schedule.
Don’t be concerned if your lawyer asks that you talk to their assistant. If the lawyer is in a trial, it may be a couple days before they are able to call you back. Often, the assistant will be able to answer your question immediately. If not, then the assistant can take a note of your question, talk to the lawyer and get back to you with the lawyer’s response quite quickly.
The assistants are skilled, knowledgeable people. It will often be faster to go through the assistant than trying to call your lawyer repeatedly and being frustrated that you can’t contact them.
However, a few firms, like Dahlem Criminal Defence, offers secure text messaging where you can text your lawyer directly, and you can also review documents in your secure online account.