Monday, August 3, 2009

How much should you pay for a DUI attorney?

One of the more interesting, albeit confounding, aspects of the business side of practicing law involves the setting of fees. Some attorneys follow a strict adherence to the contingency fee agreement. While this type of agreement is prohibited in Florida criminal cases it is extremely popular in the personal injury world.

Some attorneys believe that an hourly fee agreement best suits the needs of the practice and the client. This form of fee agreement is usually commenced when the client provides the attorney with some lump sum of money, which is held in trust and from which the hourly fees are extracted.

At the end of the day, the client often finds herself nonplussed when the attorney comes back for another chunk of money because the case has taken an unexpected turn. Or, in the alternative, the attorney is embarrassed by her miscalculation of the amount of time involved and ultimately does not ask for additional funds and simply "works the case" past the point of being compensated. Neither scenario is optimal.

In criminal law, the hard and fast rule seems to be that criminal cases are accepted under a "flat fee" sort of agreement. In other words, Attorney Joe will charge one thousand dollars to represent Mr. Smith on his criminal traffic charge. If Attorney Joe gets the case thrown out of court in two weeks he is paid his one thousand dollar fee. Conversely, if Attorney Joe has to fight the case for months, file motions, and ultimately go to trial on behalf of his client he is paid - you got it, one thousand dollars.

There are several reasons why the majority of criminal attorneys operate under a flat fee agreement. First, criminal law is a bit more predictable than civil law. That is not to say that there is not room for wide variances from case to case, there is. But by and large a criminal case follows a procedural schedule that is at least partially, if not wholly dictated by the Speedy Trial rules.

Usually, the proverbial "end is in sight" from the very beginning. In a misdemeanor case the chips will fall on the table at the 90 day mark should the defense attorney and the defendant choose to force the issue and push a trial. In a felony the same can be said after the 175 day point.

Therefore, the chances that your average criminal case will languish in the court for years is very slight. In a civil action the end of the case is often a dream unrealized for both the attorney and the client. Especially the client.

The advantage to the client of a flat fee agreement should be obvious. He will know exactly what his legal fees are from the very beginning of the case. Being arrested and charged with a crime is stressful enough without having to revisit legal fees when an hourly retainer runs out of money. The client in a criminal case wants to pay what is owed and rest assured that the attorney will handle all contingencies that might arise in the case.

So, after all of that you are probably ready to get around to the answer of the question in the post title. We're almost there.

First, you should add up all of the costs associated with being convicted of a DUI. These costs will vary from person to person but should include:

1. The amount of money you will lose if you do not have a fully functioning driver's license for 30 or 90 days.

2. The amount of extra money you will spend on auto insurance with your new SR-22 designation as a person convicted of DUI.

3. The amount of money you will lose when your job and career prospects become limited with a DUI conviction.

4. The almost immeasurable amount of grief you will encounter for the rest of your life when attempting to acquire health insurance, life insurance, auto insurance, and any type of security clearance or professional license.

When you come up with a number you should next consider the fact that the ramifications of the conviction will stay with you forever (there is no 7 year record clearance like in a bankruptcy case).

Now, I assure you that even the priciest DUI attorney will charge a one time representation fee that is much, much, much less than the number you came up with.

The lesson? Choosing a DUI attorney involves a decision in which the legal fee is only a relatively small part of the equation. You need an attorney who knows what they're doing and who has your best interest in mind at all times. Then, whether the fee is 500 dollars or 5,000 dollars you will ultimately rest assured that you did everything you could to help yourself minimize the damages after your arrest.

You will be able to find attorneys who charge up to 10 thousand dollars for a single DUI case. You will also be able to locate attorneys (usually newly minted) who charge as little as 500 dollars for a single DUI case. The variance is staggering.

Ultimately though, taking into account local market variables, you should expect to pay anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000 to secure the services of a criminal attorney in your DUI case. Anything more or less than that range should raise some sort of red flag.

Of course this post was made in 2009 and if you staggered upon it in 2015 these numbers will likely no longer represent an accurate range.

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