Fees in criminal cases are misunderstood by many members of the public. Some myths are that the lawyer uses some of the fee to influence prosecutors, police officers or judges and that the fee is based upon how much money the client has. That is not how fees are used or set.
Most clients do not care how much time the case takes or, if it is dismissed, if that occurs early or late in the case. You simply want a good result. I try to structure a fee that induces me to accept the case and which usually insures my representation through an agreeable solution regardless of the amount of time required. This allows you to work within a budget and have a good estimate of fees likely required.
What I do is try to calculate the amount of time that will likely be required to handle your case from the beginning to the end. I calculate the number of hours that I will likely meet with you, that I will spend thinking about and preparing motions, that I will appear in court, that I will spend reviewing evidence with the prosecutor and investigating law enforcement agents, and that I will spend with the prosecutor attempting to negotiate a resolution of the case. Then I try to calculate the amount of time that will be required to take the case to trial including preparation, jury selection and the trial itself. I include the amount of time I believe my staff and law clerks will spend, and I come up with a minimum fee for my retainer.
Then I calculate what type of expenses might be required to adequately defend the case. For example some cases require extensive investigative work, while others require the services of experts in the field of mental health, crime scene reconstruction, forensic science, like fingerprints, blood-splatter and questioned document examination. I contact experts in those fields, determine what they require as a retainer, and prepare a list of proposed expenses for the case.
Often my fee letters are divided into two sections: one that deals with attorney’s fees and in house expenses and the other which deals with investigative expenses. I will not take a case if you cannot fund both fees and expenses because I will not go to court unless I am able to do everything necessary in the case. Deciding to accept the case is sometimes not easy. If I commit to your case, I may be forced to decline others because things must be done immediately, and I only have so much time.
Often family members or friends want to pay the fee for their children, or other relatives or friends. There is nothing wrong with that, but the person I represent is the person in trouble, not the person who pays the bills. That should be understood in advance because sometimes parents and children have different views of what should happen to the case. Also, employers who engage me to represent their employees should know that I represent the employee, not the company, even though my fee is paid by the company.
I charge what I call a minimum retainer – an up front advance payment: a minimum fee for me to accept the case. What that means is that if I am successful in getting the case dismissed early and before I have spent all of the hours I originally anticipated in calculating the retainer, the entire fee was earned. There are exceptions to that rule: if you wish to be represented by someone else (at any time in the case), you have an absolute right to that, and can discharge me with or without cause. You want a different lawyer, my contracts provide that my compensation is based upon the amount of time that I have spent on the case at my hourly rate of $250, plus expenses.
My standard contract is a flat fee contract. That is that I will agree to represent you from the beginning until the end of the case, cover all expenses which are reasonably anticipated, and regardless of the amount of court appearances, appeals in the middle of the case, or unforeseen developments, the fee remains the same.
You may review the rule of ethics adopted by the Louisiana State Bar Association governing attorney client fees and I always attach a copy to my fee contracts. I have provided a link to the Louisiana State Bar Association, Louisiana Disciplinary Board for review.
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