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How Do Attorneys Decide How Much to Charge in a Criminal Case?


This is a good question because anybody who has been arrested or their loved one has been arrested, and they’re trying to find an attorney and want to know what the price is going to be and how the lawyer is going to decide exactly what they’re going to charge for their services.

I can give you an idea of having quoted people prices in California criminal cases for nearly 30 years.  Several factors go into what I charge in a criminal case. My law firm is based in Los Angeles County, and I represent people across Southern California.

One of the biggest ones is how long I perceive the case to take.  If it’s an average case and I know it’s not going to be a problem, I will be able to either resolve it or take it to trial within a reasonable amount of time.

That’s going to be a significant factor in which I charge. The easier and less time-consuming, the less money I will charge. If, on the other hand, somebody is charged with California Penal Code 187 PC murder, not only is it going to take a long time and it takes a high level of skill, but you’re going to be in a position where all of the marbles are on the line.

If your client loses, they’re probably going to go away for the rest of their life.  So, that dovetails into another massive factor in what is charged in a criminal case, and that is how serious the charges are.

The more serious the charges are, the more is at stake, and usually, the more work is involved.  Our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys will review further below.

Skill Level of a Criminal Lawyer

Many criminal defense lawyers don’t think about this until it’s too late; I would say a significant factor is the more skill level involved. I can give you an example of what I mean by that.  Often, people come to me and say we’re looking for a lawyer to take on our criminal case after the preliminary hearing.Burbank Superior Court in California

I say to them, why don’t you stay with the lawyer you had who did the preliminary hearing, and they’ll either say that lawyer didn’t know what they were doing, we even had to help ourselves primarily, and noticed they didn’t ask the right questions.

Sometimes, they will say, believe it or not, the lawyer told me they don’t do stuff past the preliminary hearing and that my case is not the type of case they take to trial.  That’s not a lawyer.

That is, somebody weak and shouldn’t be practicing criminal defense shouldn’t be taking severe cases, especially when looking at a lot of time in prison.

After the preliminary, they got their money; they got cold feet and didn’t want to proceed with the case.  So, those lawyers, unfortunately, are out there.  You have to make sure you don’t end up with one of them.

Attorney Fees After the Preliminary Hearing

Another thing that I see costs, people, a lot of money is when lawyers have to quote fees after the preliminary hearing, especially in LA county. On a felony, most lawyers will quote from arraignment up to the preliminary hearing because they get off the case after the preliminary hearing.

Suppose they and the client don’t see eye to eye or don’t have any more money left to retain them. Because once you take a case past the preliminary hearing, you now put yourself in a position as an attorney where if that client decides to go to trial, you’re going to have to be the one who tries it.

You’re not going to be able to tell the judge I didn’t get paid because the judge is going to say you shouldn’t have called on the case after the prelim.  You’re going to do the case now.

Questions I Ask My Clients

So, that’s one thing you have to be aware of.  If somebody’s come at me after the preliminary hearing, I’m going to be asking that person the first question:

  • What do you want to do with the case?
  • Do you want to try it in front of a jury?
  • Do you want me to try to work out some resolution?

Depending on the answer to that question, that will dictate my fee.  If the person wants to go to trial, it’s a severe case, depending on which court the case is in, I’m going to factor all of these things in when I quote my fee, and then I’m going to figure out how long the trial is going to take.Criminal Defense Lawyer in Los Angeles

Is it going to be a few days, a week, two weeks, a month?  I need close to that information before I quote the fee because, once again, it gets us back to what I said in the beginning.

Time is usually going to dictate what a lawyer will charge you in a criminal case. I know in this post I haven’t given you any specific prices, and that’s because each case is particular to a person:

  • You have to look at their criminal record;
  • You have to look at what the charges are;
  • You have to look at who the prosecutor is, which court the case is in, and
  • You have to evaluate the client’s expectations.

So, if you want the best — someone who’s been doing these 30 years — and knows all the angles in criminal defense, and will give you a reasonable price after I flush out what type of a case we’re talking about based on some of the factors I’ve discussed, you’ve come to the right place.

Pick up the phone.  Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding.  I stand at the ready to help you. The Hedding Law Firm offers a free case evaluation.

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About the Author

Named Top Los Angeles Criminal Attorney by LA Times and named one of the Top 100 criminal defense attorneys in California by the National Trial Lawyers Association. I'm the attorney other lawyers hire to defend them.

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