Attorney’s Fees

How do criminal defense attorneys determine fees?

How do criminal defense attorneys determine fees?


Most criminal defense attorneys in California charge attorney fees in one of two ways: (1) Flat Rate Fees; or (2) Hourly Fees. At the Fannon Law Office, I charge attorney’s fees by using a mixture of these two concepts I call a Modified Flat Rate Fee.

Flat Rate Fees

Flat rate attorney fees generally involve the attorney estimating how much time it will require to work a criminal defense case up in preparation for trial. Depending on whether the case is a misdemeanor or felony, most flat rate attorneys will set the initial fee with the understanding that the work will not include taking the case to trial. This allows the attorney the ability to see the law enforcement reports and evidence in the possession of the prosecutor, conduct defense investigation, and determine the outcome desired by the client.

For misdemeanor cases, the initial fee will normally cover the case up to trial setting or trial confirmation (depending on how the local courts manage their calendar). For felony cases, the initial fee will normally cover the case up to the preliminary hearing.

If the case is resolved during this initial time period, no additional fee is required. However, if the case is not dismissed or resolved, additional fees are required for the final trial preparation and the trial itself.

The advantage to the client is a known cost up front. If the attorney estimates wrong and the case takes more time than estimated, the attorney does the work for no additional fees. However, if the attorney is able to resolve the case for less than originally estimated, the attorney still keeps all the fees because it is a flat rate.

In a flat rate attorney fees case, outside experts must be paid by the client in addition to the attorney fees. Outside experts might include a private investigator, a paralegal, a psychiatrist, a medical doctor, etc.

Hourly Fees

Hourly rate attorney fees involve the attorney setting an hourly rate for the attorney assigned to the case and additional hourly rates for other staff who may work on the case. Hourly rate attorneys will require a deposit into a trust account up front and will normally stop working on the case if the trust account runs out of funds before the work is completed, until additional funds are deposited.

The advantage of hourly rate attorneys for the client is not paying a flat rate for just a few hours of work that ends up with a dismissal or settlement. If the case is resolved with only two hours of work, the client only pays for the two hours and any excess fees are refunded to the client. However, it is not uncommon for a criminal defense case to cost much more from an hourly rate attorney that a flat fee attorney if the case goes all the way to a jury trial.

Modified Flat Rate Fees

Modified flat rate fees work differently. Under a modified flat rate system, I estimate the costs for working a misdemeanor case to either the trial setting or trial confirmation. At the same time, I inform the client of the hourly rate for the attorney working on the case. For felony cases, I estimate the costs for working the case until the preliminary hearing or the trial confirmation. This will be flat rate estimate that will limit the maximum amount of fees the client must pay for the work to be done. If the work takes longer that estimated, no additional fee is required, just like in a flat rate case. While this is happening, I still track the amount of time spent working on the case and provide a monthly statement just like an hourly rate attorney.

The difference with a modified flat rate is that if the case takes less time to resolve with either a dismissal or a settlement, the client pays only for the work done and any excess fees over the hourly rate is refunded to the client.

This system allows clients to know the maximum costs of the case before committing to hire the attorney, like flat rate fees, without having to worry that the attorney will keep all the fees if the case is resolved early in the process.

As far as I know, no other criminal defense attorney in California utilizes the modified flat rate system. If you are looking for an experienced, reliable criminal defense attorney who will provide you with the best defense available without requiring your family to go completely broke, schedule an appointment on this web site or call to set up a time to meet and discuss your case.