Why Do Lawyers Want To Talk To Me Before Telling Me The Legal Fee?

Disclaimer: This article is in response to questions frequently asked of Mr. Cobb and is an unedited dictation transcript. Just like talk to text on your smartphone, there may be misspelled words or sentence fragments.

One of the most aggravating aspects of practicing criminal defense law is when someone calls up and says, “How much do you charge for a DUI”, or, “How much do you charge for a burglary”, or, “How much do you charge for domestic violence”. I don’t know if it’s a first offense, I don’t know if it’s a 21st offense. I need this kind of information simply because it determines how much work goes into the case. The reason we have intake interviews and initial consultations is simply because when we’re setting a fee, a lawyer is figuring out how much time and effort is going to be involved. If a matter is going to require less time and effort, then the fee is naturally going to be lower. If the matter is more serious and is going to require more time and effort, the fee is going to be higher.

Let’s take for example that person calling up and saying, “I have a DUI, how much do you charge for DUIs?” In one scenario, that person may want just damage control and they are hopeful for a substitution of charge for reckless driving but they are mainly concerned about not going to jail. That case is going to have a certain level of work involved. I’m leaving out a lot about the information we need such as whether or not there are breath tests, an accident, a blood test, a refusal, things of this nature, so I’m being very broad here. At the same time, another person, it may be a first offense but they just happen to be a pilot and their job involves flying small aircrafts transporting goods or people, whatever, and in that case, that’s the situation where we basically have to put in significantly more time because the client simply in their mind is determined that they cannot accept a DUI conviction.

That case is going to involve an almost certain trial, there’s certainly going to be motions to suppress evidence even if they are not very good motion, there are going to be additional discovery motions and suddenly, you can see is I am laying all of this out that you have two first offense DUIs but based upon the needs of the client, a different level of work goes in. That’s why one DUI may costs $2,500 and the same type of DUI, because of the ramifications, you end up with a total bill over $25,000 where expert witnesses are called and they have to be paid for and the workload on the legal team is so much greater. So when someone calls up and says, “How much will you charge for a crime X”, we really can’t answer that until we know what the client’s objectives are and also what other facts are involved in the case. You can have a DUI with a blow, an accident and in a particular county, that particular judge who handles those cases, let’s say it’s a small county with one judge, like Walton County, that particular judge may have a policy of jail time in almost every case for accidents no matter how minor. I’ve run into this. We had to do a lot of work to keep the client out of jail but it was possible to do so.

In another county, something else may cause the judge to want to impose jail time. For example, an allegation that a police officer was almost hit or a construction worker in a construction zone was almost hit by somebody under the influence, yet that same judge would not give jail time for minor accident. So it’s critically important to know what affects the prosecutors’ decision-making, what affects the judges’ decision-making, and when it comes to setting a legal fee, what are the client’s objectives and what are the type of facts, background and other information that determine the workload. So the basics are the information that we’re asking of people is so we can determine the workload and set a fee. If someone just calls up and they just insist on getting a fee quote, they’re usually going to get the maximum fee quote.

Some firms will give them a range but generally speaking, as a lawyer, you don’t want to be thinking you’re going to be spending X number of hours on a particular case only to get ambushed by a fact-pattern someone didn’t disclose after you quoted the fee to find out that the workload is actually X + Y + Z. That’s not fair to the clients of the law firm and at the same time, we want to be fair with everybody we represent. So we charge reasonable fees for the work that we do but it’s going to vary depending upon a number of different factors.

When I Was Released On Bond, I Was Given A Paper With The Court Date. Is That For My Jury Trial?

Actually no. The first court date usually happens in jail after someone has been arrested where they see a judge on a video monitor, and that’s called first appearance. At that first appearance, people most of the time get a bond unless they are not entitled to one for some reason. Then they’re given an arrest report, not in every case but most, and other paperwork and there’s going to be a court date on there for when the prosecutor will formally charge that person with a crime in open court. This is called Arraignment under rule 3 of the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure. In Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure there are many 3 point this and 3 point that types of rules.

When someone first goes to court, this arraignment proceeding will be called different things and different counties, plea day in Okaloosa County, for example, arraignment in Escambia County, and the purpose is for the judge to call defendants down one at a time and then the prosecutor will read out the charge, the judge will ask a single question, how do you plea? At the beginning of arraignment court, the judge will state what are the available pleas to a client, to a defendant and they generally are guilty, not guilty and no contest. Once the person enters the plea, if it’s a felony case, the judge cannot sentence them on the spot because what’s known as a Rule 3.992(a) score sheet has not been prepared for the state. Those are never prepared until later in the process well after formal charging, not always but usually.

What will happen if a person pleads no contest or guilty in felony court, then sentencing will be set off to a later date and that person has just placed their head on a platter meaning that without the threat of trial, they have virtually no defense and they don’t know the first thing about mitigation of sentence in order to get a lighter sentence. That’s a real problem because just this morning before we did this series of questions, I had someone who was basically in that situation and it wasn’t a very pretty thing and I had to talk to them about that. Basically they wanted to use certain information as mitigation. I took one look at it and realized that would cause the judge to add time.

A lot of times, people will want to do things that they think are going to help their case but if they are not careful, they can actually blow their vibes up by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time without even knowing that they’re doing it. In misdemeanor cases, a judge will sentence on the spot for pleas of no contest or guilty and many are lured into a bad plea bargain because there is no bargain when people represent themselves, go in the court, plead no contest or guilty and then find out that there’s something in the arrest reports, probable cause, statements or other aspects of what we call discovery that causes either the state to ask for jail time that was not expected or more jail time that was expected, second offense DUI is a classic example, the person thinks they only have 10 days that they’re looking at.

They go to court and the prosecutor asks for 90. I can’t tell you how many cases I’ve handled with that particular fact pattern but that’s a lot. So it’s important not to go to that first court date alone and to let a lawyer handle that and to directly answer the question in finality, the answer is no, it is not a trial; it is only a first of what will be many court dates in the case.

Disclaimer: This article is in response to questions frequently asked of Mr. Cobb and is an unedited dictation transcript. Just like talk to text on your smartphone, there may be misspelled words or sentence fragments.

For more information on Discussing Attorney Fees With A Client, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (850) 669-5882 today.

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