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Boulder Behind Bars: Grasping the True Cost of Attorney’s Fees in Criminal Cases

Legal pickles can be sour, but finding the right lawyer shouldn’t leave a bad taste in your mouth. Let’s add some flavor to this journey!  From traffic tickets to more serious charges, legal troubles can knock on anyone’s door. You’re not alone. But fear not, the perfect lawyer is out there. You’ve read Selecting the Perfect Lawyer on AboutBoulder.com.  You’ve identified one, two or more lawyers to have an initial consultation with. Some charge for that initial meeting, while most do not charge. At my firm in Boulder, Dolan+Zimmerman [720-610-0951] we do not charge until a fee agreement is signed and a retainer is paid. The retainer amount is determined by the complexity of the case, the potential sentence, an estimate of the time that will be involved by the lawyer, the lawyer’s experience, and more. Important side note! If you pay your lawyer in cash over $10,000, your lawyer MUST file a “form §8300” for the Feds. That cash reporting form will include your social security number. A lawyer cannot take money he or she believes is not legally obtained money, and thus the “need” for form §8300.

clear hour glassHourly fees may be the most fair for many cases

Many criminal defense attorneys charge hourly, paying themselves from your money which they are holding, the retainer. So if you pay a $10,000 retainer, think of a retainer like a piggy bank – you put money in, and the lawyer takes out what they earn. No secret handshakes involved! If through our brilliance as lawyers along with your cooperation and following instructions as a client-defendants, we are then able to complete the case in 4 hours, we pay ourselves for the 4 hours, from the account where we hold your retainer. It is your money held by the lawyer unless and until it is earned. This type of arrangement is called an “hourly fee.”

Also common in criminal defense is the “fixed fee.” A lawyer charges a fixed amount to handle each segment of a case. Typically a trial fee is a separate “tier” requiring an additional payment. 95% of all state criminal cases are resolved before a trial, obviating the need to pay for and to risk going to trial. 95% of the cases are resolved by a plea bargain (subject of an upcoming article).

two round blue-gray-and-yellow analog devices

Hourly fees are like paying for a taxi ride – the meter runs as you go. Fixed fees? More like an all-you-can-eat buffet – one price, no matter how hungry your case is. The problems include the disincentive for the lawyer to put in more time, incentive to the lawyer to do less, since the fee is the same if they do more or less work on your cases.

Some case are somewhat predictable as to what effort, risk, stress and time will be involved, frequently others are much difficult to predict. Sadly, this most common fee agreement, now Colorado Ethics approved, is frequently going to prove unfair to the defendant-client, or unfair to the lawyer. It does however have the benefit of the client-defendant knowing what the lawyer  is going to cost. I believe that hourly fees are the most fair, honest, and understandable. You pay for and the lawyer is paid for work done. Work an hour, get paid for an hour.  No windfalls for lawyers, and no over-paying by client. Although remember that in some cases what a lawyer does in an hour or three might well be worth the entire fixed fee. Every case truly is different to the excellent attorneys.

I am frequently asked if I’ll work on a “contingent fee.” That would mean I only get paid if I achieve a per-specified result. That might mean avoiding prison, or it might mean getting a full fast dismissal.  Contingent fees are the most common by FAR in personal injury case, car crash cases, white police car in wall

and more. In a criminal case, contingent fees are clearly and absolutely unethical. Promising a specific result is also unethical. If a lawyer promises they can get the case dismissed, or promises about anything else concerning the outcome they can achieve, run, don’t walk to the door. Gambling on the outcome of your criminal case by betting with your lawyer about the outcome is a no-no!

READ the fee agreement. Preferably before you sign it. Be clear on how your are being charged and on how you are going to pay before you sign the agreement. ASK any questions. Attorneys fees can often be $5000 or less. They also can often be $10,000 and more. If someone has died as a result of behavior alleged against your client, a retainer of $25-50,000 would be not only reasonable, but perhaps on the low side.

I’ve taught an entire class on “DO THE WORK.” As a lawyer, working hourly, if I want to earn money, I have to do the work. And if I do the work, the case WILL come out better. And I’ll earn more attorney fees to the benefit of me and to the benefit of my client.

Now is the time that you might ask “so now that you’ve rambled on for 691 words, will you please tell me how much my lawyer is going to cost?”

Yes and no. Let’s talk about the “yes.” First, hourly fees in Boulder in this field range from under $2oo an hour for lawyers generally with little experience, to $500 -$1000 an hour for the very experience criminal defense lawyer who also has a good track record and extensive experience. If a lawyer says “I’ll handle your DUI for $750,” either they plan on putting a few seconds into the case, or they think their time is worth very little as a lawyer. Both are bad for the client-defendant. You would not shop for the cheapest surgeon either. If you need doctoring,  you want the best you can get. You want the Pros from Dover for surgeons, and the pros from Boulder for your criminal case defense.

So, how much will a lawyer cost? It’s like asking how long is a plate of mashed potatoes! – but don’t worry, we’ve got the rulers to help you measure.


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