Particularly for those who have never been in trouble before, hiring a lawyer can be an intimidating proposition. Facing criminal charges can be traumatic, and there are those in the profession who will seek to take advantage of the perceived weakness created by that trauma by charging exorbitant rates. There is no simple answer to whether a cheaper lawyer or more expensive lawyer will take better care of your case.
Expensive does not necessarily mean quality – whether what is expensive is a lawyer, a handbag, or even a meal at a restaurant. Many factors go into the price an attorney may quote you over the phone. Some attorneys may quote you a higher price because you sound like you can afford it, others may quote high after scaring you into thinking you will be incarcerated if you do not pay whatever their requested amount is.
In the criminal defense field, most attorneys proceed by method of retainer payment – a down payment to initiate their defense of your criminal case. Some may deduct from that retainer at an hourly rate, some may charge a flat fee, and some may cap total fees at a certain figure – or bill hourly for your entire case until and unless there is a jury trial, at which point a lump sum payment would cover trial related expenses. The hourly rate retainer model is perhaps the most prevalent.
Many attorneys ask for higher retainers and hourly rates to make up for the expense spent on support staff in their office, and other law practice overhead. Others ask for higher rates, despite not having such support staff, simply because they have been around a long time and because of their longevity have known names.
There are certainly situations where a lawyer charging more than the average hourly rate in his practice area is worth what he charges. Some lawyers may charge exorbitant rates due to their representation of celebrity clients. Some lawyers may exploit their celebrity clientele in marketing themselves to you,then pawn you off to an associate once they have received your retainer, never to review your case again.
Price is certainly a factor for most individuals seeking an attorney, but it should not be the deciding factor. Your attorney’s qualifications, ability to effectively negotiate on your behalf, peer recognition, past results, demeanor, and attentiveness are far more important than the trappings of an impressive support staff, upscale office, or expensive luxury car. An attorney too focused on his celebrity or wealthy clients, or enormous, complex cases, may not care much for smaller, run of the mill cases.
Conversely, a lawyer whose price is too low may be an indicator of a newer practice, still in its growing stages. An attorney whose practice is newer may work much harder on your case because he is still in the stages of growing his business and establishing his reputation. While some years of practice are important, at a certain point years of practice do not necessarily serve as an indicator of ability or justification for a higher price point.
Always ask your prospective attorney about his caseload, the types of cases he handles, and whether he or someone else will be handling your case.
Always read a fee agreement thoroughly to find out exactly how the retainer money will be used and whether the agreement is fair; oftentimes a fee agreement will be an excellent litmus test as to whether what you are being charged is reasonable or not.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.