How Much Does a Defense Attorney Cost?

In most circumstances that involve hiring a defense attorney, the most common question is “How much will this cost me?” Facing a criminal charge can jeopardize the security of your job, house, family, and, most of all, your reputation. This is where a criminal defense attorney can come in handy to fight the charges against you.

You shouldn’t trust your future to a court-appointed public defender. However, before you hire an experienced lawyer, you must understand the cost of their services. Several factors determine the difference in the rates any defense attorney may charge.

Factors Determining the Cost of a Defense Attorney

The following factors contribute to the rate defense attorneys charge for their services. In general, you want to try to find the most skilled attorney you can possibly afford, no matter what their rate.

The Attorney’s Experience and Skill

When your life’s work or your family is threatened by criminal charges, having an experienced attorney is everything. However, their efficient work and proven track record deserve a substantial reward. Therefore, an experienced lawyer is quite expensive when compared to an average lawyer.

The Nature of the Case

The complexity of a case can directly affect your chances of winning in court. In most cases, the defense attorney will charge legal fees that are higher in felony cases when compared to misdemeanor cases.

Felony cases involve quite a long process that requires a lawyer to invest more of their time. Detailed preparation on the attorney’s part is mandatory. The more appearances the lawyer makes in court, coupled with the number of investigations and testimonies, the higher the cost.

The Billing Structure

Criminal attorneys do not have a standard pricing rate for their services. Every lawyer has a system when it comes to billing rates for their clients. There are three common types of fee arrangements you will encounter among lawyers.

1. Hourly billing

Lawyers who charge defendants on an hourly basis require their clients to pay for every hour spent fighting your case. The cost at an hourly rate could be $150. Therefore, the total amount of hours taken multiplied by the cost per hour is the total payable amount.

This arrangement also requires a retainer as a deposit before the attorney will agree to take the case. The retainer is deposited into a trust account. Most lawyers prefer an hourly rate because clients find it more affordable in cases of shorter duration. However, when the case takes a long time, the client might find it expensive.

2. Case billing

In the case of billing, the lawyer provides a fixed fee structure that covers the whole process. The payment arrangement stands regardless of the time and complexity of the case. For instance, a defendant charged with drunk driving may spend $1,500 that is not refundable no matter how quickly the trial ends.

3. Flat rate billing

Flat-rate billing is a method rarely used by most lawyers. Because they can’t be sure how much time they will have to invest in the case, they may end up not charging enough for their time. However, some attorneys still use this structure on minor misdemeanor charges. The attorney may charge anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000.

Your Criminal History

A defendant with a history of criminal charges may be more difficult to defend, and the case then becomes more complicated. That includes more preparation, investigation, and connection to previous charges.

For instance, you might spend between $750 to $2,000 on a lawyer for a misdemeanor charge like marijuana possession subject to your criminal history. The same might apply to theft charges.

Why You Shouldn’t Rely on a Public Defender

According to, a criminal conviction also has serious ramifications for your life, so it is imperative to have a qualified, experienced attorney representing you. If you qualify due to a low income, you may be able to get a public defender to represent you. However, this is not the best option.

Public defenders have massive caseloads that they need to get through as quickly as possible. They cannot possibly devote personal attention to you because they simply don’t have the time. This is not an area where you want to take shortcuts to save money.

Take your time when hiring a criminal defense attorney since there is no typical proven cost of their services. However, some of the factors discussed above can give an estimate of your budget.