If you have never been charged with a criminal offense before, and suddenly find yourself a defendant, you are likely feeling concerned about the outcome of your case as well as confused about the entire prosecution process. Your first priority should be to retain the services of an experienced Nebraska criminal defense attorney. Having never needed one before, however, you may not even know how defense lawyers charge. Setting fees and payment arrangements is a highly individualized process for attorneys, making it impossible to know ahead of time exactly how an attorney sets his/her fees or what those fees will be. It may help, however, to learn more about the types of fee arrangements and how defense lawyers charge as a general rule.
Types of Fee Arrangements
Even if you have hired attorneys before in the past, they were most likely civil attorneys, not criminal attorneys. This means they likely used a different type of fee arrangement than you may encounter with a criminal attorney. In general, there are three different types of fee arrangements lawyer use when billing clients:
- Per hour fees — as the name implies, this type of fee arrangement means that a lawyer is keeping track of the time spent on your case and billing you for that time, typically in quarter hour increments. When you are charged an hourly fee you are usually required to give the attorney a “retainer” fee up front against which time will be billed until the retainer runs low. You will then need to replenish the retainer. For example, you might be charged $250 per hour and asked to give the attorney a $2500 retainer which represents ten hours of the lawyer’s time. When you have used about nine hours you will likely need to make another payment. When this fee arrangement is used, the amount of the retainer required is determined by how much time the attorney thinks he/she will spend on the case. Most civil legal issues are billed using this type of fee arrangement.
- Contingency fees – certain types of civil cases, however, use a contingency fee arrangement. When a contingency fee is used, the client agrees to give the attorney a percentage of what the attorney gets for the client. For example, if the attorney secures $150,000 for the client, and the contingency fee is one-third, the attorney will earn $50,000. If the attorney does not recover anything, the attorney gets paid nothing. This is most commonly used for legal issues such as personal injury lawsuits, workers’ compensation claims, and wrongful death cases.
- Flat fees — a flat fee arrangement means the client pays an agreed upon fee regardless of how much, or how little, time the attorney spends on the case. Many criminal defense attorneys charge a flat fee. Usually, the entire fee must be paid up front; however, some attorneys will accept a down payment and allow the client to make payments.
How Defense Lawyers Decide on a Flat Fee Rate
Although there are some rules regarding the types of fees an attorney may charge, by and large attorneys set their own fees and payment arrangements. Most defense attorneys charge flat fees for their work. The amount of that fee, however, can vary widely from one attorney to the next for the same representation. Some of the factors that typically go into determining how much an attorney will charge under a flat fee arrangement include:
- Level of the offense(s) – the more serious the charges against a client, the more work that typically goes into representing the client.
- Number of charges – sometimes the State piles on several charges of essentially the same offense; however, in other cases there are actually several different and distinct offenses that must be defended.
- Type of offense – certain types of crimes are just more time intensive for a defense attorney. Allegations that involve a victim, for example, tend to take longer to settle or try than cases without a victim.
- Defendant’s criminal history (or lack thereof) – if you have a lengthy criminal history it can make your defense more complicated. It can also make the prosecutor less likely to negotiate a plea agreement, all of which leads to more work for your attorney.
- Court in which the case is filed – some courts are just more difficult to work within than others. Defense lawyers know this and often factor it into their fees.
- Specific facts and circumstances of the case – seemingly simple misdemeanor case can become much more complicated once the facts and circumstances are known. Conversely, a seemingly serious felony case can be rather simple given the facts of the case.
- Client’s intentions – a client who walks in determined to work out a plea agreement as soon as possible is likely to be less work for an attorney than a client who walks in demanding to take his/her case to jury trial.
If you have been charged with a crime in Nebraska, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced Nebraska criminal defense attorney right away. In Nebraska contact Petersen Criminal Defense Law 24 hours a day at 402-509-8070 to discuss your case with an experienced defense attorney.