Why Should I Hire a Private Attorney if I am entitled to a Public Defender at little or no cost?

As a former defender, I will start by stating that public defenders are excellent at what they do and exceptional criminal defense attorneys. However, there are drawbacks to representation by a public defender.

  1. High Caseloads-The American Bar Association sets the maximum number of cases that a full time criminal defense attorney should represent per year is 150 felonies or 400 misdemeanors. Public Defenders routinely exceed these caseloads through no fault of their own. Often, public defenders are far too busy to give your case the time that it deserves.
  2. Switching Attorneys- It is common for public defenders to switch cases thus you may be speaking with a different attorney each time you go to court.
  3. Unable to represent one client in multiple jurisdictions- Public defenders are assigned to a jurisdiction in which they must work and cannot work in others. However, private attorneys are not bound to one particular jurisdiction. For example, if a client has cases in both Norfolk and Virginia Beach, one public defender would not be able to represent him or her in both cases but a private attorney would.

 How are your services billed?

Everyone hates unexpected expenses, especially when it comes to legal matters. It has been my experience that clients do not care whether a case takes a few hours or a few days, they just want their lawyer to do a good job and handle their case appropriately. First, I will explain what traditional flat fee billing looks like. Then, I will explain what traditional hourly billing looks like. Then, I will explain the strengths and weaknesses of each and why my modified flat fee billing approach gives the client the best of both worlds.

Traditional Flat Fee Billing

A traditional flat fee billing approach means that the lawyer quotes a price to the client to handle their entire legal matter no matter how long the case takes. Just as an example we will use $5,000. The client accepts this arrangement, pays the lawyer, and the lawyer works the case to completion.

Traditional Hourly Billing

A traditional hourly billing approach means that the lawyer tells the client what his or her hourly rate is. Just as an example, the lawyer’s rate is $250/hr. The lawyer then asks the client to pay for what is usually referred to as a “retainer” at the beginning of the representation. Just as an example we will use $5,000. The lawyer will bill towards the $5,000 retainer at the $250 hourly rate until the funds are exhausted or the case is resolved. If the funds are gone before the case is resolved, then the client must pay an additional retainer in order to keep the lawyer on the case. If the matter resolves before the funds are exhausted, then the client receives a partial refund of their retainer.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Each

The first strength of Traditional Flat Fee Billing is that it provides certainty to the client that they will be represented on the case until the matter is resolved. It also provides a fixed dollar amount which is attached to the representation. This means since the lawyer agreed to a flat fee for the whole representation, he cannot then come back to the client for more money. It also incentivizes efficient work.

The main weakness of Traditional Flat Fee Billing to the client is that if the case settles earlier than expected (i.e. the lawyer only spent 1 hour on the case) then the client would have saved a bunch of money if they had instead chosen a Traditional Hourly Billing approach.

For example, client A chooses Traditional Flat Fee Billing and pays the lawyer a $5,000 flat fee. The case resolves much quicker than expected and the lawyer only spent 1 hour on the case. The client is happy their matter is resolved but had they chosen Traditional Hourly Billing at $250/hr. they would have received a refund of $4,750.

The first strength of Traditional Hourly Billing is that if the case resolves relatively quickly then the client saves more money going with Traditional Hourly Billing rather than Traditional Flat Fee Billing.

The main weakness of Traditional Hourly Billing is that if the case goes on longer than expected then the client will have to pay the lawyer a second time, sometimes even a third time or more if the case drags on. Viewed from this point of view, Traditional Hourly Billing may amount to a “blank check” so to speak.  It also doesn’t necessarily incentivize efficient work nor speedy resolutions.

Modified Flat Fee Billing

Why should a client have to pick their poison? Clients are not fortune tellers, meaning they don’t know how long their case may take to reach resolution. There is a solution. I bill the client the lesser of either a flat fee or the hourly rate.

At the beginning of every case I will give you an estimate on your case which acts as my promise to you. When I quote a price, I stick to it. This means that whatever happens in your case, I will never ask you for more money. This gives you comfort in knowing what your maximum fee exposure is on your matter. However, I will also keep track of the hours I spend your case. If during the course of your representation, my hourly billing exceeds the flat fee you paid in the beginning, then I will not bill you for the extra time. If during the course of your representation, my hourly billing does not exceed the flat fee you paid in the beginning, then I will refund any unused portion of the fee you paid.

This arrangement is simple and straightforward. It gives you the strengths of both and the weaknesses of neither. It also makes the financial decision easier on you. At the end of the day, that is a lawyer’s job-to make life easier on you.

Is Modified Flat-Fee Billing available for all services? 

Modified Flat-Fee Billing is available for some but not all services. Please contact me so we can discuss your specific situation.

Do you give free initial consultations? 

Yes, I give free 30 minute initial phone consultations.

What payment methods do you accept?

Cash, check, or credit card

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