Legal fees are negotiable. I want my services to be available to any person who needs legal services, provided that the case is one that interests me and I can collect a fee that will fairly compensate me for the work I am expected to do. I accept personal checks and most major credit cards for payment. I accept cash but usually do not have any cash on hand, so you will need to pay an exact amount in most cases if you choose to pay in cash. I prefer advance payment and will usually offer you a discount upon request if you are able to pay “up front.” Payment plans are available, however, for most services. That is, you would pay a certain negotiated amount as a deposit or retainer, and then follow up with monthly payments.
Keep in mind that legal fees are separate from expenses for which you may be responsible in your case. Naturally, the legal fee does not include any fine or court costs you might have to pay. In addition there may be fees for a private investigator, expert witness fees, fees for serving subpoenas, and other expenses that are incurred in preparing your case for trial. These are detailed in my fee agreement, but in most cases involving a simple guitly plea no such expenses are incurred or charged.
I no longer charge a consultation fee for a 30 minute consultation because, frankly, it is not necessary. Most people who go to the trouble of making an appointment and come in to see me end up hiring me unless they have no income at all. People shopping around by telephone for the “cheapest lawyer” usually do not schedule or keep an appointment. (No doubt they eventually find the cheapest lawyer and are never heard from again). If an extensive interview or review of documents is required I will quote you a fee for the time it takes to conduct the extended interview or review the documents.
This is the arrangement that I prefer to offer and that most clients like. It works well in criminal cases. I often use a “modified” flat fee arrangement so you would pay a lower minimum fee as a retainer and a surcharge based upon the number of court appearances Some court appearances are brief, but using this method averages out the cost, because some appearances last many hours. Even so, you will usually come out better with some kind of flat fee arrangement than you would with an hourly rate.
My hourly rate is generally $175 per hour, which I almost never use any more since I stopped doing civil work. Paralegal services are priced lower. My hourly rate is in the ballpark of what most lawyers with my level of experience charge. It may sound rather high compared to the wages or salary you earn, but keep in mind that if you are salaried or paid wages your employer pays the expenses of operating the business. When you hire a lawyer you are not hiring an employee for a salary or wages, you are paying a pro rata share of what it costs the lawyer to stay in business, including rent, employee salaries, taxes, office furniture, equipment, supplies, telephone system, credit card services, and advertising. Even this website costs money! Compared to a flat fee hourly fees are usually higher if you have a difficult case and lower if you have an easy case.
A contigency fee in a criminal case, that is, a fee that depends on the outcome, is illegal. So I cannot charge you, for example, one fee if you get probation and a different fee if you get county jail time or penitentiary time. So don’t even ask.
Prepaid Legal Services
I am on the panel of attorneys who accept payment of legal fees from Texas Legal Protection Plan, Inc. This plan covers many state and municipal employees on a voluntary basis, and may be available to others. I have handled many cases under this plan. Their phone number is 1-800-252-9346. I am also on the panel of attorneys for Legal Plans, USA, tel. 214-954-0400, and ARAG Group, tel. 1-800-247-4184, but not very many people are covered under these plans for criminal cases.
In Tarrant County the courts have a fairly liberal policy about court appointments. Many people who could probably hire an attorney end up with an appointed lawyer; however, the courts are now requiring monthly payments as a condition of bond to reimburse the county for part of this expense, typically about $50 per month. Of course, you do not get to choose the lawyer. It might be me, or someone with at least my level of experience, but it could just as easily be someone who has less.
If I think you should apply for court-appointed counsel I will frankly tell you so, but that does not mean the judge will agree! If the judge does not think you qualify for one reason or another he may find your bond insufficient, put you in jail, and then appoint a lawyer for you! Contrary to popular opinion, I think that appointed counsel usually do a good job for their clients. But I think it is better for people to hire the lawyer of their choice rather than let the county make the choice for them!
In federal court, the policy is, believe it or not, even more liberal. People with jobs but modest income often get court-appointed counsel. Unlike the state court system (which has many participating attorneys with a wide range of experience) the federal panel of appointed attorneys (called the “CJA” panel, of which I am a member), is rather small. The attorneys I know on the panel are all competent with considerable experience. What you do not want to do, which has happened a number of times in cases where I have been involved, is to discharge your CJA panel attorney in order to hire a different lawyer (particularly one who is not a member of the panel or is otherwise lacking in federal court experience), who ends up calling me and saying, “Look, I have just been hired on this federal case. Can you give me some pointers on what I need to do?” [Groan…]
Free legal services are sometimes available in civil cases on a “pro bono” (meaning “for good”) basis. It is up to each individual attorney to decide how much pro bono work he wants to do and it is very uncommon in criminal cases because of the availability of court-appointed counsel for indigent defendants facing possible jail time. To find out if you qualify for such services in a civil case call Legal Services of North Texas at 214-748-1234 or West Texas Legal Services ast 817-336-3943 (M-W 8:30-11:00 am; 1:30-4:00pm). The Texas Attorney General offers child support collection services. They have several different phone number that can be found in the blue-bordered white pages of the Southwestern Bell telephone directory under Government Offices -State. Look for ATTORNEY GENERAL, Child Support Enforcement.