Being charged with a criminal offence is an extremely stressful time for most people. There are the obvious concerns that almost everyone will have, such as what punishments they are likely to receive and the long-term impact that a criminal conviction might have on their career or travel plans.
For many people, there is also the stress of potential legal fees of hiring a criminal lawyer represent them. In our experience, a lot of the stress simply comes from not knowing what a criminal defence lawyer might charge, what payment options there are and so on. We want to help by providing some information which might answer the important question of how much a criminal lawyer will cost.
How Much Does A Criminal Lawyer Cost?
The first thing to understand is that there are several ways that a criminal lawyer can charge for their time. The three most common methods for criminal lawyers in Queensland are set out below.
An Hourly Rate
The most well-known method for charging legal fees is by using an hourly rate. This means exactly what it says – your lawyer will charge you an hourly fee for the time that they spend working on your case. For example, if a lawyer’s hourly rate is $250 per hour and they spend 10 hours working on your case, their fee will be $2,500.
Charging an hourly rate is popular amongst most law firms around the world as it means that their clients only pay for the time spent working on their file. This has an obvious attraction for the client as well as it means that they are only paying for the services they receive.
Unfortunately even though this method is simple to calculate on paper, it might not be so straightforward in real life.
Let’s say that you have hired a criminal lawyer to represent you for a guilty plea to a minor drug charge. You agree that you will pay an hourly rate of $250 per hour. After a while, your lawyer says to you that he or she wants to explore a possible defence to your charge, even though you have instructed your lawyer that you want to plead guilty. You want to know if there is a defence however so you agree that you want the research carried out. It turns out to be a dead-end and you decide to plead guilty.
Afterwards, you receive a bill from your lawyer for his or her time working on your guilty plea but also for their time researching the possible defence. In this situation, are you required to pay for the extra time spent on your case even though it wasn’t part of your original instructions?
Hourly rates are a common method of charging legal fees as they provide a direct relationship between the time spent on a case and the legal fees themselves. However, care needs to be taken to ensure that there are no “surprises” on the bill, as explained above.
The hourly rate itself will depend on the lawyer’s age and experience, the law firm they work in, the type of case they are working on and more. For example, a junior criminal lawyer may only charge $100/hour for their time whereas a very experienced senior partner may charge up to $800/hour.
It is important that you do not base your decision on who to hire solely on their hourly rate. A lawyer with a cheaper rate may look more appealing at first but their inexperience may end up costing you a lot more in the long run. Similarly, a criminal lawyer does not necessarily have the required expertise just because they charge more than their competitors.
A Fixed Fee
Many criminal law firms are now offering a fixed fee quote for a wide range of cases. In this situation, your lawyer will provide a fixed quote to cover all the work necessary to achieve an agreed result. This arrangement is most common when the lawyer has a good idea about how much work will be required on a particular case and is willing to provide a quote to cover that work, despite knowing that they may end up spending more time on the case than originally thought.
Fixed fees are reassuring for many clients because they know upfront what the legal fees will be and they don’t need to worry about receiving bills that are higher than expected. This is because Queensland lawyers have an obligation to tell you if their fixed fee quote is likely to increased due to a change in circumstances.
Legal Aid Queensland funding
The third most common method of charging for legal fees is quite different from charging hourly rates and fixed fees. In Queensland, suitable applicants can apply for legal funding from Legal Aid Queensland. In this arrangement, the criminal lawyer’s fees are partly or wholly covered by the Queensland Government.
It is important to note that Legal Aid will not pay legal fees for anyone that applies. There are strict criteria that need to be met relating to both a person’s financial circumstances as well as the nature of the criminal charge(s) they are facing. For example, Legal Aid will not fund someone who is facing a straightforward drink driving charge as this will not be considered serious enough for Government funding.
Also, not all criminal law firms are approved to work with Legal Aid. To be approved, the law firm must be able to prove that they meet a certain standard of knowledge and expertise and that they will provide a high level of representation for all clients.
Harper Finch Lawyers is an approved preferred Legal Aid Queensland supplier.
What Is The Best Method For Charging Legal Fees?
There is no simple answer to this question as it depends on a wide range of factors.
As a general rule however, criminal law firms are more likely to charge an hourly rate for complex matters where the progress of the case and/or the outcome are uncertain. This is because a criminal trial may extend from one day to several months and it may be impossible to know beforehand just how long it will take. In this situation, it would be impossible to offer a fixed quote.
On the other hand, shorter matters such as minor guilty pleas or licence applications may be more suitable for fixed fees as any experienced criminal lawyer should have a good idea about how much time will be needed to achieve the desired outcome.
Legal Aid funding is only suitable for applicants who cannot afford to hire a lawyer themselves. If a funding application is approved, Legal Aid will then assign a qualifed lawyer to the applicant (unless the applicant already has a Legal Aid-approved lawyer representing them).
If you are thinking of hiring a criminal lawyer to represent you, it is important that you understand the different charging methods that can be used.
How Much Will A Case Cost?
Once you understand how a criminal lawyer might charge for his or her time, it is important to get an idea about what sort of fees you might be looking at for representation.
There are a wide range of factors that will determine how much a lawyer will cost to represent you in court. One of the most important issues will be the size and complexity of your case.
If you have been charged with a minor drug charge and you intend to plead guilty in a Magistrates Court, you might find an inexperienced lawyer who will represent you for $700. If however you have been charged with murder and you are facing a trial in the Surpreme Court, your legal fees could easily in the hundreds of thousands of dollars as you would want the best lawyers you could afford defending you.
There is therefore no simple answer to the question of how much a case will cost or how much a lawyer will charge. You are however entitled to obtain a quote and we strongly recommend that you get it in writing to avoid any disputes later.
There are several different methods that criminal lawyers can use for charging legal fees. Each has their own advantage and disadvantage and it is important to speak with your lawyer about each option to determine which is best for you.
At first, the quoted legal fees might appear to be intimidating however you should protect yourself and your legal rights by only going to court with an experienced criminal lawyer. A criminal conviction can ruin a person’s life and even just the stress of going to court can be too much for some people.
If you have been charged with a criminal offence, contact us now for an obligation-free discussion about how we can help.