How Much Does It Cost to Hire A Criminal Defense Lawyer In 2024?
No one ever prepares to spend money on a criminal defense lawyer. It's not like you have a special savings account set aside in case you get arrested! So as soon as you (or a loved one) is arrested, the cost to get a good defense attorney becomes a major worry. I understand that, and always try to work with people on a budget to help them out. This is also why I don't charge interest rates on payment plans or charge my clients credit card processing fees. I know that money is a concern for almost everyone. So, below are answers to many questions people have about paying for a private criminal defense lawyer. I hope this helps answer some of your concerns.
Should I hire a private lawyer or use a public defender?
This is probably the most common question I get. I want to make it clear that I personally know many public defenders and they are some of the best lawyers in the state, and many are highly experienced. It's also important understand there are different types of "public defenders" in Georgia. A true "public defender" is an attorney who works in a county public defender office and only handles cases assigned to them through the public defender's office. They do not have private clients. Some counties do not have a public defender's office, and use "court-appointed" attorneys instead. Cobb is one of those counties. In these counties, you have to apply to be assigned a court-appointed lawyer directly. If you meet the low income requirements, then the county will assign you a lawyer. The county will then pay the lawyer directly instead of you paying the lawyer (but you may have to reimburse the county later for those fees). Some court-appointed attorneys do a great deal of court-appointed work, and have almost no private clients. Other court-appointed lawyers have many private clients and only take a few court-appointed cases. Personally, I make an effort to take some court-appointed cases in Cobb every year because I think it is important to help the community in this way. However, most of my business is from private clients.
The trick with public defenders and court-appointed attorneys is you don't get to pick who represents you. You are usually stuck with whoever is assigned to you. Just like in any other profession, some lawyers are great and others are terrible. For people who simply have no money for an attorney, they have no choice but to go with an attorney assigned to them. This can be understandably very scary, especially if they are facing serious charges. It's stressful enough to be worried about your charges and it makes it much worse if you also have to worry about whether your lawyer will do a good job. If you end up with a bad lawyer (private or public), it can be very difficult to undo the damage they have caused.
Can I call a private lawyer and ask how much they would charge to take my case?
YES! Never be afraid to call and ask how much they will charge. A good lawyer will want to get more information about the case before giving you a price, and they may have to call you back. That is OK. You want them to be giving you an informed price quote. If they just tell you a price without doing any research or asking any questions, I would be skeptical of them. I do want to caution people that it is often very surprising how much any criminal lawyer costs. People unfamiliar with the criminal process don't realize that most cases take months or years to resolve. Your lawyer will be doing lots of work behind the scenes (like writing legal documents, evidence review, legal research, working with the prosecutors and judges) as well as many court appearances. It takes time and hard work to handle a criminal case, and a good lawyer will put it many hours preparing your defense.
Do I pay by the hour or just one flat rate price?
Most private criminal lawyers charge a flat rate price to defend a criminal case. For example, if you have been arrested for your very first DUI, a lawyer may charge you $4,000. However, that number may be higher or lower, depending on your criminal history, other charges you have pending, where you were arrested, and the circumstances of the case. Some lawyers (like me) are usually willing to do payment plans to help manage the financial burden. The details of that payment plan are going to be different (just like the price) depending on your specific situation. This is why you shouldn't be afraid to call several lawyers to find something that works for you.
Why isn't there just a price list for criminal defense attorneys so I can see how much my charges cost to defend?
You should RUN from any lawyer that uses a price list. No two cases are exactly the same, so a price list means they are going to charge you a premium for what it costs to handle that kind of case - even if your specific case will really take much less work. Most lawyers should have a rough estimate of how much they charge for particular cases, but that may be be adjusted up or down based on some of the things I mentioned in the question above (depending on your criminal history, other charges you have pending, where you were arrested, and the circumstances of the case).
I called several lawyers. Why were their prices all so different?
It can be frustrating to figure out what is the "right" amount to pay lawyer. Remember, lawyers will be putting in many future hours into your case, and it can be hard to predict how many hours that will be. The bigger the case (murder cases for example), the more hours they will be putting into it. So obviously, it will cost more. Each lawyer makes those predictions a little differently so that is why the price range is different. Also, for some lawyers, they are also passing on their costs (like the cost of the salaries for their staff, associates, advertising, etc.) on to you through their higher fees. *And what's really unfortunate is that those same staff and associates that you are paying for through higher fees can later become a roadblock for you getting to actually talk to the big-name attorney that you hired!* When considering price, also consider other factors that will affect your case. (See below - how do I decide which lawyer to hire?) You need to compare both the price - and the lawyer you're getting for that price - before you make a final decision.
What kind of payment plans do you offer?
I make it a point to customize payment plans to each specific person and the demands of their case. In general, if you contact me soon after the arrest, I can usually do a longer payment plan with smaller monthly payments, because we have more time before the case will likely be resolved. If you contact me after you've had many court dates and perhaps are looking at getting it resolved very soon, I won't be able to do much of a payment plan (if any) because of the sheer amount of work that has to be done in short period of time, and I may have to stop working on other things to handle your case immediately. If you wait too long to hire a lawyer, some important things may have been missed or done wrong, so that means a lot of work to get your case back on track. But regardless of your circumstances, I never charge interest on payments and never charge for credit card processing fees like some other firms do.
There are other things that go into how we set up a payment plan. If you are able to put a larger amount down when you hire me, the monthly payments can be lower. But if you can only put down a small amount, the monthly payments are going to be higher. In any case, the payments must be made monthly, and all payments have to be completed before the case is likely to be resolved. I don't care who makes the payment - it can be a family member or friend. My firm offers online invoice payment by credit, debit or e-check. This makes it easier on my clients and their families because payment can be made from anywhere in the world without incurring extra fees. And as always, my clients and/or their family are also always welcome to come to my office in Marietta to make payments.
Should I just hire the cheapest lawyer I can find? Or is the most expensive always the best?
No and no. A cheap lawyer may seem like a great idea at first but I hear way too many horror stories about lawyers who charge extremely low fees. In order for these lawyers to succeed with such small fees, that means they must have a very high volume of clients. A lawyer is still a human being, so they can only be in one place at a time, and can only work on so many cases during their working hours. If a low-price high-volume lawyer has 10 times as many clients as most private lawyers, it is likely that lawyer simply cannot give each case the amount of attention that it really needs. So, you may be "saving" money but putting your future at risk at the same time by using a lawyer who doesn't have the time to get to know you and your case. And like I mentioned above, it is very hard to undo the damage to your case caused by mistakes made by a lawyer who didn't do their job properly from the beginning. I get calls all the time from people saying they should never have hired that low price lawyer because they aren't doing anything on the case and now the client is very worried about what will happen to their future.
Some well-known lawyers are extremely expensive. That is not surprising. But just because a lawyer is very expensive, or is very well known, that doesn't mean they are the best one for your case. Sometimes, you are paying extra for the name - sort of like buying a new Lexus instead of a new Toyota. Both will safely, comfortably, and reliably get you to exactly where you need to be, but one is just a lot more expensive and flashier. At the end of the day, was it worthwhile to go into debt or empty your savings just to have the Lexus take you to the same place the Toyota can take you? I'm not picking on Lexus - I love a nice car! But your case, your future and your finances are all very important, so be smart about what exactly you are paying for when you hire a lawyer. Staff, associates, advertising and big office spaces all cost money. Some big-name lawyers will pass those costs on to you through charging you higher fees. Those lawyers don't necessarily know the law, the judge or the prosecutors any better than middle-priced lawyers. So think hard about your situation before choosing to hire a lawyer just because they are high-profile.
So how do I decide which lawyer to hire?
I know it can be scary to decide, especially when facing serious charges. You are putting your trust and your future in their hands. I think the smartest thing to do is call several lawyers and talk to each of them about your case. Here are some things to consider - in addition to their price and payment plan - before you choose which one to hire:
- How comfortable were you in speaking with each lawyer? You will be working closely with this lawyer and you want to feel like they listen to you and have your best interests at heart. If you don't feel like they were easy to talk to, move on to another lawyer.
- How will you be able to contact them once they take your case? Some of well-known lawyers and high-volume lawyers can be very hard to get on the phone. You always end up talking to a staff member. Sure, the attorney may be willing to talk to you when you're interested in hiring them, but then they "disappear" after you've paid them. Your calls never get returned, and your questions go unanswered for weeks or months. I have a policy of giving my clients (and their family contact) my cell phone number. Calls come directly to me. And I return voicemails and texts myself - usually the same day. (If I've been in court all day or it's the weekend, it may take a little longer than 24 hours but speaking directly with my clients in a timely fashion is extremely important to me.)
- Do they have an associate (younger lawyer) who works for them? Some high-profile lawyers have younger lawyers who end up handling much of your case. This may be just fine - the associate might be a great attorney. But if you are paying lots of money for a high-profile lawyer, you might be very disappointed to find out that that high-profile lawyer didn't really do any of the work on your case.
- Did they try to rush you into signing a contract? You should take some time to consider who is the best lawyer for you. If you have court in the next few days, you can't take too long to decide. But don't let a lawyer pressure you into signing a contract right away. That is usually a bad sign. They should have no problem with letting you think about it and call other lawyers.
- What do their online reviews say? It is always helpful to read reviews and hear from prior clients. Avvo.com and Google are two good places to go to read my reviews or reviews on any lawyer. Don't be afraid if the attorney has small number of bad reviews - there will always be some disgruntled (or unstable) prior clients who would not be happy no matter what the lawyer did for them. But do look at the overall theme of the reviews to see what people think. Or if they don't have many reviews at all, that might be something to be concerned about as well.
- How well do they know the county where your case is pending? Part of handling your case will be knowing what your judge and that particular prosecutor might do, and what options are available to you that could help you resolve your case. Ask the lawyer how well they know the county where your case is pending. Some lawyers will take cases all over metro Atlanta, and hiring a lawyer with very little experience in a particular county might not be a good idea because they don't have the "inside knowledge" to give you the best defense possible.
If you have questions about how much it will cost to hire me, feel free to call or text me at 404-904-2862. I will usually need to get more information on the case so that I can review it before I give out a price. But I am never bothered by people who are shopping around and talking to different lawyers - I think that is a very smart way to decide who to trust with your case and your future.