Do the fees associated with criminal lawyers vary by city and state?

By | November 5, 2013

Just as the cost of living varies, the fees for a criminal lawyer vary on a state by state and city by city basis. Consumer Reports has stated that criminal defendants may expect to pay as much as $1500 for a criminal case that doesn’t go to court. Simple court cases go up to $2,000 or $3,000 when court time is figured into the equation. This is just an average. Those living in NY, LA, Miami or other expensive urban areas may pay much higher fees.

A New York criminal lawyer will charge as much as twice the average national rate. That’s because New Yorkers are dealing with more than twice the rent and twice the daily costs. A Los Angeles criminal lawyer pays at least 1.5 times as much for rent. These higher overhead costs are passed down to the client. Larger cities also have a high per capita crime rate. This can cause a client’s case to take longer. For instance, a criminal lawyer in Miami may need twice the time to handle a case.

In a major urban center, the sheer number of lawyers who are vying for business is a cost-balancing factor. A Denver criminal lawyer has more competition than a criminal lawyer in rural Colorado. A criminal lawyer in Miami, however, has more immediate competition than a Denver criminal lawyer. A Los Angeles criminal lawyer has more competition than a lawyer in Miami. When lawyers must vie for business, their rates come down. In addition, court backlogs often lead to more deals, such as suspended sentences, which may reduce the time and money spent on a defense in a busy urban area.

The average hourly charge in the United States was nearly $300 for criminal cases. Some cases may require just a few hours in court, and others may require days in court. Keep in mind that the hourly rate also applies to the lawyer’s desk work, which is critical to a criminal case. The length of the trial will affect the amount that a criminal defendant must pay.Since the hourly rate is much higher for a New York criminal lawyer, a lengthy trial can become unaffordable very quickly.

Client Factors

The client’s case affects the overall cost as well. When looking for a lawyer in a criminal case, the biggest personal factors are the type of crime, the charge (misdemeanor or felony), and the defendant’s prior history. A court case may run longer if there is more to defend. The fees for a misdemeanor case will be far lower than for a felony. Lawyers often require a higher retainer if they can foresee that the client’s defense may be more time consuming both in and out of the courtroom.


A retainer is simply an amount of money paid to a lawyer that is expected to cover costs in advance. However, this is just an approximation of how much you will owe the lawyer at the end. Sometimes the retainer does not include court fees that may be assessed. Sometimes a retainer is too low to cover a lengthy trial. If this is the case, a client may end up owing as much as the original retainer. To avoid getting hit with a big bill at the end, clients should ask their lawyer to bill them regularly. This way a client can see how much of the retainer has been used.


Clients should find out the hourly rate of a criminal lawyer. There may be two rates. One is for office time, and the other is for trial time. There is usually another rate for the paralegal’s time. Clients can be charged for a quarter, half or three-quarters of an hour as well as an entire hour. As you can see, this makes it imperative that a lawyer is honest with the client about how many hours will be needed to complete the case. It also makes it imperative that a client receive a detailed bill each month, even when the retainer is still covering costs.

Phone Calls and Emails

Clients who regularly call or email a lawyer may see their costs grow as a result. Before paying a retainer, a client should ask how phone calls and emails from them to their lawyer will affect their bill. Sometimes clients, who are worried about their case, drive up their own bills by constantly calling or emailing for information. A lawyer should be proactive, explaining when the client should call and when the client should refrain from doing so. This way the client won’t run up the bill unnecessarily.

Extra Costs

Some lawyers charge extra for services that a client may expect to get for free. This may even include copies of documents. It can include court filing fees and other official fees paid on behalf of the client. It may include research services that are hired out rather than done in-house by a paralegal. Courier services are yet another line item that may be excluded from the retainer. A client should ask their lawyer about all of these items before paying the retainer. Once the lawyer has the retainer, a client will lose money if he or she wants to switch lawyers.

Free Consultation

With many lawyers, the first consultation is free. Clients should use this hour to find out if the lawyer is familiar with the laws governing their particular case. The lawyer will ask many questions. The client should do the same before agreeing to the retainer. If the client isn’t satisfied at the first meeting, it is better to go to another lawyer before making a final decision.

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