How Do Lawyers Charge for Criminal Cases?

How Do Lawyers Charge for Criminal Cases?Various forms of flat fees for criminal attorneys in Illinois are extremely common. In fact, it appears much less common for criminal attorneys to charge on an hourly basis. For other types of lawyers such a contested divorce or a general civil litigation attorney, being charged hourly is extremely common, but not so for criminal. The following contains general information about how law firms typically handle such fee arrangements, although this may vary from firm to firm:

Flat fees provide certainty

The primary reason behind charging on a per-court-event basis is that it gives clients certainty about pricing. No one wants to go to their favorite restaurant for a cheeseburger and then be told that the sandwich cost them more on Tuesday than it did on Monday, just because the cook took longer to make it on Tuesday! Of course, lawyers aren’t the same as cheeseburgers, but you get the picture.

So with flat fees, no matter how much time the attorney spends in-between court dates researching, writing, negotiating, conferencing, or speaking to the client, it’s still the same price.  If the attorney takes hours to get to court in a snowstorm one day or if the Judge makes everyone wait around many hours for the case to be called when it should have been minutes, it’s still the same price.  If the case goes to trial and the attorney has to be there all day, unable to perform work on any of their other clients’ cases, it’s still often the same price, although this may vary amongst law firms.

Although this type of pricing is often referred to as “per court date” pricing, that’s often somewhat of a misnomer (at least at Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC, our written contract explains how this works in much greater detail). It’s not that it costs a certain set amount to just go to court each time, because such an amount might be a lot for what may turn out to be a normal short court appearance all by itself. The fee however, generally covers not just all the time spent on that court date, but also all the time spent in-between court dates, because in-between is where the bulk of time is typically spent.

Hourly fees can sometimes be difficult

On the other hand, people who are charged on an hourly basis at firms which charge fees in this manner, will typically receive monthly billing statements that show how many hours were spent that month, and a calculation showing how this amount has already been subtracted from their “retainer”.  A retainer is a lump sum of money that is paid to the attorney up front and must typically be quickly replenished with additional funds as the balance dwindles. Work on the case may be halted if the client isn’t able to replenish the retainer promptly. On this type of hourly case, a client may find that one month very little work was charged against the retainer, while in the very next month, the entire retainer is fully depleted, and the client is expected to replenish it quickly with another lump sum that they may not be able to afford.

Depending on the type of case involved, the client may have little choice but to hire a lawyer hourly, but most people would prefer certainty in pricing and flat fees offer that. Even though it can’t ever be promised how many court dates a case will take, flat fee pricing allows the client to be secure in knowing that the fees are just based on the number of court dates involved.

The amount of time actually spent on your case should not impact how a good law firm handles your file and they should continue to give 100% to each case regardless of whether the firm thinks that they may be spending a greater than expected amount of time on a particular case.

Speak to us if you have additional questions

The basic benefit of flat fees to many clients is that if they were being charged at an hourly rate, their fees would often have been more in the end, not less. -And especially if a criminal or traffic case ended up going to a bench or a jury trial, total fees on an hourly basis might have been much, much more expensive, as trial preparation and a trial itself are often very time-consuming and extensive.  Flat fees are generally determined based upon the seriousness of the case, the work that’s anticipated, the expertise that is provided, and they’re intended to protect the client from the uncertainty of unexpectedly large bills that weren’t anticipated and might be difficult to afford. Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC can be reached at (312) 644-0444.

Written by Mitchel S. Sexner Last Updated : April 26, 2022