How Do You Choose An Attorney? What Should It Cost Me?

November 09, 2021 Written by
How Do I Find A Lawyer? How Much Should I Pay? How Do I Find A Lawyer? How Much Should I Pay? Kitsap Attorney Jennifer Witt

Every day we get calls from potential clients who went down the wrong road. It wasn’t just the road they chose, it was that they wandered too long on the wrong road and we can’t get them back on track. 

What do I mean by the “wrong road”?

 

The wrong road can be using a public defender. It can be using non-local attorneys. It can be spending way too much money for a flashy firm but getting their intern as your lawyer. All of these scenarios lead you down a bad path. 

Aren’t all criminal defense attorneys the same?

 

Definitely, no! We don’t want to beat up on public defenders because they serve a valuable and critical function in the criminal justice system. However, they are overworked, carry large caseloads, and cannot possibly know the critical details of every case and every client. Simply, there aren’t enough hours in the day to know whether every client might qualify for alternative resolutions on their case. 

As far as non-local attorneys, this has become more problematic in recent years. The lawyers are competent in general criminal defense matters but they lack awareness of critical alternative resolution options in the local municipalities and counties. Essentially, they miss out on valuable opportunities for their clients. We had a call this morning in which a defendant should have qualified for Felony Diversion but the attorney had never heard of it. There is no going back since the defendant already plead.

 

Don’t make this mistake for too long. It’s okay to switch lawyers but it do it EARLY in your case!

 

Nearly every day, someone will call to explain that they read one of our blogs about Felony Diversion, Compromise of Misdemeanor, PACT program, or a Pre-Trial Diversion and many other therapeutic courts. Unfortunately, the person on the phone already plead to the crime and their attorney never heard of these alternatives. That’s hard to hear. Avoiding a felony on your record is life changing. If you don’t hire experienced local representation, you can really miss out on critical options for your case. 

If you stay with your public defender because you want to “wait and see” how it goes, that is probably how it goes. Once the public defender and prosecutor are at a standstill or trial has been set, it’s next to impossible to back that situation down and ask for an alternative resolution. So, don’t “wait and see” when it comes to your future. Criminal histories are permanent and have far-reaching impacts. 

What if I think I can’t afford it? How much should I expect to pay a criminal defense lawyer?

 

The cost depends primarily where you need representation. In Kitsap County, a DUI or misdemeanor charge should be $2500-$3500 dollars. Most of the best attorneys in our area have not raised fees in a decade. If you’re paying more than $3500 for a DUI in Kitsap or Pierce County, you’re paying too much (unless you have multiple charges or complicating factors). It’s really that simple. Some of the best attorneys we know in Tacoma charge $2500 for a DUI and they are far superior in terms of legal experience and knowledge to any of the big firm lawyers. 

If over paying is your thing, the next level for fees is usually around $5000-$7000 for a DUI, misdemeanor assault, assault 4- domestic violence, trespassing, lower level theft, or other misdemeanors and some gross misdemeanors. You might be quoted this fee if you are talking to a defense lawyer at a mid-size firm where the lawyer doesn’t have much negotiating room on fees because the partners determine what must be charged. These fees are not way out of the ballpark but you could find the same quality of representation for less. If time is of the essence and you click with the attorney, it might make sense to pay $5000 for a DUI even if you could get a great attorney for $3000. Sometimes, you need to find someone and get representation going quickly. 

On the extremely expensive side (basically, you’re wasting a lot of money), you could be quoted more than $7000 for a DUI in Pierce, Thurston, or Kitsap County. There a just a few firms that try that but, if you are panicked, you might be tempted to pay way too much for peace of mind. In that case, expect to pay somewhere between $7500-$10,000 for a basic misdemeanor charge, including a first time DUI. And, don’t expect to get anyone with decades of experience. These firms crank clients through due to advertising so you may end up with the newest hire—someone with a couple of years experience as a public defender or low level prosecutor. 

How do law firms justify charging so much for defense?

 

Law firms have a fair amount of overhead. There are so many insurances, labor, leases, expensive legal research software, accountants, and much more than keep a firm open. However, some firms take it to a crazy level of “glam.” These firms do a tremendous amount of radio or tv marketing, pay tens of thousands for fancy videos, and thousands more for billboards. If you hire them, you should expect to pay $7500-$10,000 for a simple DUI. You aren’t getting more and, in fact, most solo or small firms in Tacoma will have defense attorneys with far more experience. However, “commercializing” a law firm costs a lot of money and they expect to make a lot of money to pay for those ads and videos. You are the one covering that tab. Again, if you’re in a panic, perhaps you want to pay that exorbitant fee. If not, make at least a few calls in the area so you can get a realistic quote for your issue. Once you call around, you will find that there are quite a few remarkable, very experienced, and local attorneys who won’t gouge you for representation. 

Take the time to call around. It may keep you from wandering down the wrong road and avoid wasting money on your legal fees. And, if you think you can’t afford a lawyer, you may find out that you can’t afford not to hire private defense. There are many times when we help a person keep their job, get a case dismissed through alternatives, or keep a felony off their record when it seemed impossible. Often, it is hard to come up with legal fees but, if you’re looking at going to jail for a month and losing your job, it is worth finding the money for someone who can take the time to seek every alternative. Finding the best representation usually comes down to local knowledge, decades of experience, and a lower caseload to handle time-consuming cases. The reality is that it may cost something up front but well worth it in the end. 

Feel free to give our office a call with any questions. If we can’t help, we will try to find you a solid referral in the area. (360) 792-1000.