APPLES & ORANGES: DON’T LET FLAT FEE FEES QUOTES BY ATTORNEYS CONFUSE YOU
It is very important to understand the fees charged by criminal defense attorneys.
For most criminal defense cases — short of very complex or unusual cases — many attorneys charge a flat fee for defending against specific charges. This is how I usually bill for criminal defense work. A flat fee means that you will pay the same amount no matter how much work or time is involved. If through past experience and skill I get the charges dropped with little time or work, the same fee is due. If I end up spending a lot more time and investing a lot more work than expected, it will still cost only the exact same fee. A flat fee is not refundable, because it is not a deposit.
Some criminal defense attorneys will advertise or quote a price which sounds very low. But usually this price only covers the minimal amount of involvement, such as to hold your hand while you plead guilty, or to simply negotiate a plea deal (in which you plead guilty to a lesser charge).
Such an attorney will often charge a much higher fee if you go trial. If you are not willing to plead guilty to the charged offense or a lesser charge, but want to go to trial, you may get charged a lot more money.
As a result, you may hear of criminal defense attorneys who will agree to take your case for a small amount of money like $500 or $750. But this often does not cover actually fighting the charges — only perhaps bargaining down the charges and pleading you guilty to a lesser charge.
So it is important to know what attorneys are really offering. Make sure you ask “What will it cost if we have to go to trial?”
Now, to be fair and accurate, it makes a huge difference. On your court date, plea deals (“bargains”) are handled early in the morning. The court runs through these rapidly. But to go through a trial, you and your attorney need to sit around and wait most of the day. Often, the trials are not called until the early afternoon, or whenever all the shorter business is out of the way first. You and your attorney will have to sit most of the day and wait for the trial (although this time can be used to strategize, prepare, talk to various witnesses, and practice the rigors of testifying).
As a result, the attorney will be investing a tremendous amount of additional work and time to take you to trial, far greater than to work out a deal. This is why it costs a lot more to take a case to trial.
However, our goal is to win a “not guilty” decision for you, or at least a dismissal of the charges. We want to go to trial with you, not simply hold your hand while you plead guilty. Still… it is your decision, obviously.
NOTE: NO ONE CAN PLEAD GUILTY FOR YOU WITHOUT YOUR CONSENT.
Accepting a plea deal is always the decision of the individual person who is accused. YOU DECIDE and no one but you.
That is why I clearly offer a flat fee charge “schedule” for different situations. I clearly tell you what it will cost if you want to negotiate a deal offered by the prosecutor (Assistant Commonwealth Attorney or ACA). This will usually mean you are pleading guilty to at least some criminal violation of some sort. If you don’t agree with the offer proposed by the prosecutor (if any), then you can decide to go to trial. I charge different flat fees if we go to trial or if we don’t go to trial.
Unfortunately, we have to be ready for trial, because we will usually not know whether the prosecutor will offer a deal acceptable to you until the court date. It might often be necessary to bring witnesses, prepare document exhibits as evidence, and hire an expert witness even if they are not actually needed. We won’t know until the court date if they are needed or not. But you will be in a bad situation if you need these things and we don’t have them ready.