When it comes to picking an attorney, felons have many pricing and fee options to pick from. In fact, you can easily find low cost criminal attorneys because of the different models that law firms deploy. For example, no-win, no-pay lawyers will only charge you if they successfully represent your case. Similarly, when you have a straightforward case, the lawyer hourly rate isn’t always expensive.
The problem, however, is that only a few felons know about these choices. As a result, many of them forgo representation to save money, which dramatically decreases their chances of winning in court. Things get even more complicated because of the various business models and fee structures that different legal firms follow.
Yet a person doesn’t need to have a law degree to understand this. After that, you can identify low cost criminal attorneys based on the complexity of your case and your budget. This article doesn’t only break these topics down, but it also goes over the pros and cons of the most common fee schedules. Equally as important, we highlight the specific cases and situations where each type of cost structure is most suitable.
Lawyer Fees: What You Need to Know
Almost 60 years ago, the Gideon v. Wainwright case defined felons’ rights to legal representation that they enjoy today. More specifically, the United States Supreme Court (USSC) decided that criminal defendants must have a lawyer.
Above all else, the USSC ruled that the Constitution gives felons the right to a free public attorney, especially when they cannot afford to hire a private one.
Public vs. Private Attorneys
However, there are still many problems that this ruling didn’t solve. Firstly, the USSC’s decision would certainly benefit the 80% of criminal defendants who can’t afford a private attorney.
Yet almost 95% of them face charges from state, and not federal, prosecutors. Since every state has its own laws on public lawyers, a large chunk of felons cannot enjoy this privilege or right.
Furthermore, this also placed a lot of pressure on the legal system. Due to the overwhelming workload, public attorneys cannot function as efficiently as a private representative.
To illustrate, Judge Morris B. Hoffman and his colleagues produced a very revealing study. Here are some key findings:
- Almost two-thirds (65.4%) of felons that worked with a public or court-appointed lawyer were convicted. Another quarter (25.5%) went to jail or prison.
- In comparison, just over half (55.2%) of defendants that hired a private representative received a conviction. Less than a fifth (18.6%) got incarcerated.
- When faced with the maximum prison sentence, public attorneys reduced felons’ times behind bars by less than 15 years. However, private lawyers lowered their clients’ sentence by almost 20 years.
- As far as serious felonies are concerned, such as murder and assault, public representatives got their defendants just over 14 years less than the maximum sentence. Private attorneys, on the other hand, lowered it by almost 18 years.
Types of Fees
Before we outline the pros and cons of private attorneys’ business models, there are certain fees that almost every lawyer (not including free public representatives) will charge or, in some cases, waive.
Firstly, attorneys sit down with prospective clients for 30 minutes to an hour. Some of them will charge a fee, while others offer free consultations.
Nonetheless, during this step, a lawyer will examine your case, evaluate their current workload, and determine if they can represent you.
Equally as important, many law offices will also decide how much they charge you after they understand your situation. Some may even tell you that you don’t need a lawyer to represent you, especially if your case is simple.
Similarly, when looking for low cost criminal attorneys, felons must assess the lawyer’s bill against court fines. Here are the main ones:
- Filing Fees: Whenever you file a motion or appeal in court, there are costs that are associated with submitting the paperwork. These depend on the crime and local/state costs.
- Court Fines: This also varies based on the type of felony charges that a criminal defendant faces. For example, the fines for illegal downloading (of copyrighted content) can reach hundreds of thousands.
- Bail: While your lawyer may not bail you out of jail, this figure should be taken into consideration when determining whether or not an attorney’s fees are appropriate for your needs.
To give a couple of examples, a felon who hires a lawyer for a fixed/retainer fee shouldn’t have to worry about filing costs because they are included in the price.
If you work with no-win, no-pay lawyers, consider how much you would save by having court fines lowered or removed in comparison to the attorney’s charges.
Either way, reduced sentences should be priced in, too.
The Retainer Fee
Law firms will charge clients a fixed, up-front rate. After that, this expense takes care of the entire case, regardless of how long it takes. Furthermore, filing fees and mail are included in the retainer fee.
Some firms will allow you to make monthly payments if you can’t afford the entire amount upfront. Typically, low cost criminal attorneys will ask you to make a reduced initial downpayment.
Retainer Fee Pros
Firstly, when you pay a lawyer a fixed amount, they have every incentive to successfully conclude your case as quickly as possible. This is especially true because, if there are any delays or problems, the attorney would receive the same payment but for more work.
Secondly, retainer fees take care of filing costs, paperwork, mail, and other case-related expenses. In other words, the more money that the attorney saves you, the more that they receive.
Lastly, but certainly not least, you don’t have to worry about unexpected developments or delays causing you to pay extra charges. After all, the fixed retainer fee doesn’t increase or change (in most cases).
Retainer Fee Cons
The downside to this cost structure is that it could be expensive. Even if there is a downpayment and monthly arrangement, not all felons can afford it.
Similarly, if you don’t win in court or steer your case towards a desirable outcome, you could end up paying and still losing.
The Lawyer Hourly Rate
Instead of charging you a fixed amount, some attorneys will have you pay per hour. At times, this cost may vary, depending on how often you communicate with the lawyer, paralegal, and/or other employees.
To clarify, the lawyer hourly rate will be much higher than that of their office staff and assistants.
Lawyer Hourly Rate Pros
The main advantage to this cost structure is that you only pay based on how often you need the lawyer’s help.
For example, if the lawyer hourly rate is $100, their retainer fee is $1,000, and they only need five hours to work on your case, paying $500 is would be an ideal way to lock in relatively low cost criminal attorneys at a desirable rate.
Equally as important, felons could cut legal expenses by spending time on research or paperwork. This gives them more flexibility, money-wise, and a lower lawyer hourly rate in comparison to the retainer fee.
Lawyer Hourly Rate Cons
Firstly, this payment method is expensive. The average attorney hourly rate tends to range between $100 and $400, depending on where you live.
Nonetheless, even the lower figure ($100 per hour), can be too much for most felons. As mentioned earlier, 80% of them can’t afford an attorney, to begin with.
Secondly, unanticipated developments that prolong your case could also dramatically increase the lawyer hourly rate that you incur. Unlike those who charge a retainer fee, lawyers that get paid hourly will make more money when your case takes a longer time to conclude.
Consequently, this also puts more pressure on the defendant. Whether they’re compiling evidence or presenting their side of the story in court, knowing that any mistake could cost you more in legal expenses can make it difficult to focus and provide relevant information.
Thirdly, if you pay the lawyer hourly rate, you could end up incurring hefty payments and, at the end of it all, lose your case.
Performance Based Fees and No-Win, No-Pay Lawyers
Some legal firms only make you pay based on the outcome of your case. A felon facing $100,000 in violation fines, as an example, could agree to pay no-win, no-pay lawyers a percentage of the amount when they reduce it.
After that, the attorney reduces the fine to $50,000 and, at a hypothetical 30% rate, the felon would pay them $15,000.
No-Win, No-Pay Lawyers Pros
The obvious benefit to a performance-based payment is that a successful outcome is all but guaranteed. Otherwise, you don’t have to pay anything.
Although some firms might charge you a small fixed fee, it is very minimal in comparison to the retainer and hourly expenses.
No-win, no-pay lawyers also have a massive incentive to successfully defend your case or lower your fine/sentence. If they don’t, all of the work that they put towards it goes to waste.
This is because the attorney will receive little-to-no payment when they can’t deliver a desirable outcome.
No-Win, No-Pay Lawyers Cons
For this very reason, performance-based and no-win, no-pay lawyers only work with defendants that have a strong case.
When prosecutors file charges against repeat offenders or present the courts with solid proof of a felon’s wrongdoing, no-win, no-pay lawyers would take on a lot of risk by representing the defendant.
In short, not everyone can access these low cost criminal attorneys and their services. Moreover, they may even charge you a relatively expensive rate if you win.
Another option for felons, especially those who can’t afford to hire relatively low cost criminal attorneys, is to work with a nonprofit organization. Needless to say, these entities offer legal services for free.
At times, you may have to pay the court filing fees and mailing costs. Otherwise, nonprofits don’t charge any attorney expenses.
Apart from the no-cost representation, nonprofit lawyers and staff members are passionate activists who care about what they do.
Instead of being driven by money, these attorneys mostly want to help promote a certain cause.
For example, if a felon is facing charges for drug possession, a lot of nonprofit entities are there to defend nonviolent offenders and make a case for why they should be rehabilitated rather than incarcerated.
Free representation also happens to be a downside to working with not-for-profit entities. Why? Because they lack the financial motive that other types of attorneys have.
As an instance, let’s say that a felon hires no-win, no-pay lawyers to reduce a $100,000 court fine. In exchange, the attorney would get 30% off the amount if they successfully waive it off.
Consequently, these law firms will be very incentivized because $30,000 is on the line. A nonprofit, on the other hand, lacks the same motivation since they don’t get paid based on the outcome.
When defendants evaluate the pros and cons of each payment model, it is important for them to look at them in light of their specific case.
Above all else, you should also factor in your financial capabilities, the strength of your defense, and if there are any low cost criminal attorneys available in your local area.
In short, what one felon finds ideal may be undesirable to another. Even though every situation is unique, there are some prominent examples that are suited for each fee structure.
When to Pay the Retainer Fee
This is appropriate if you’re unsure how long your case will take to solve. The fixed payment amount protects you from additional expenses in case something unexpected happens.
To illustrate, let’s assume that someone has to defend a DUI or an OVI charge. When the police pulled them over, the driver also didn’t have a valid license. In addition, the offender had illegal drugs in their vehicle, but they aren’t sure if law enforcement are aware of it or not.
After explaining the story to an attorney, the defendant can rest assured that the retainer fee will cover arguments against the DUI charges, expired license violations, and, if it comes up, the drug possession accusations.
The retainer fee is even more valuable when the felon wants to save money on filing and paperwork costs since the payment also covers that.
This is especially true when your local or state court charges higher expenses than those in other areas.
When to Pay the Lawyer Hourly Rate
If you believe that your case shouldn’t take too much time, the lawyer hourly rate ensures that you only pay for what you need. This is especially true when you are willing to take care of the filing fees or spend time researching your case.
Similarly, when you work with a nonprofit attorney, they may not be able to take care of certain situations. In the example above, a not-for-profit entity’s lawyers could be qualified to handle the DUI and drug charges.
However, their area of expertise doesn’t extend to invalid licenses or traffic infractions. Here, the lawyer hourly rate is affordable and, at times, necessary to pay.
When to Work With No-Win, No-Pay Lawyers
This payment structure is ideal for felons who have a strong defense and, at the same time, limited finances. Again, because of the risks that no-win, no-pay lawyers assume, going through them is only appropriate if you have a solid case.
Yet you should also consider whether or not you can pay the law firm when you win in court. The fact that a legal office doesn’t charge you up front doesn’t mean that they are low cost criminal attorneys.
That is to say, if they convince the court to remove your $100,000 in exchange for 30% of that amount, can you afford to pay the no-win, no-pay lawyers $30,000?
Moreover, do you have to pay it upfront or are monthly installments an options? All of this should be clarified before you decide to hire an attorney.
When to Work With Nonprofits
Obviously, this route is ideal when you can’t afford a private lawyer, including relatively low cost criminal attorneys. Having said that, nonprofits may be effective in some situations more than others.
Firstly, if you can’t find any local attorneys that specialize in your specific case type, a nonprofit could fill that gap.
Secondly, organizations that focus on a certain criminal justice issue, such as alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders or felons’ rights to due process, will be very effective at helping you (assuming that these examples apply to your case).
Finding Low Cost Criminal Attorneys
Fighting against criminal charges is incredibly stressful and emotionally draining. Dealing with the finances that are related to hiring a lawyer makes things even more complicated.
Yet for this very reason, different business models exist. After all, attorneys can only make money when they cater to people’s specific needs, including monetary ones.
Consequently, offenders who do their research can easily find low cost criminal attorneys and preferable payment options.
Before picking a lawyer, take your time and evaluate the different types of fee structures in your local area or state. Furthermore, you should do so through the lens of your case’s strength and financial capabilities.
In short, this decision will literally define the course of your life. An unsuccessful defense could add years to your sentence and financially drain you, especially when you are a currently housed inmate.
A successful argument in court, on the other hand, could save you thousands of dollars and, equally as important, spare you of years worth of prison time.