You may have noticed that finding how much a criminal defense lawyer costs is one of the few things that’s very difficult to find on-line. And you aren’t necessarily going to get the answer by reading this blog. Even as I write this, I’m not sure that writing about the cost of a D.C. criminal defense lawyer is a good idea. It’s a subject few lawyers feel comfortable talking about with clients unless those clients are sitting across from us in our offices. And to be honest, it’s my least favorite part of a consultation. Watching a potential client’s eyes widen in disbelief when I tell them how much their DUI or Solicitation of prostitution defense will cost them gives me no pleasure. Quoting the cost of a serious felony or a Federal criminal defense is even less pleasant. Because the truth is, D.C. criminal defense is expensive, and nobody likes to pay for it.
No matter how serious the criminal charge, one of the first questions a potential client asks me on the phone is, “what is your fee.” And that makes sense, because 1) you probably have never hired a lawyer before, and have absolutely no idea how much one costs; and 2) you want to know how much this is going to hurt. The truth is, no one expects to be arrested. No one has a rainy day fund set aside for the possibility of getting an assault charge from a bar fight, a DUI on your way home from an Arlington bar, or a panic-caused hit and run. Most Americans have no savings and very little room left on their credit cards. So of course they’re worried about the cost.
But providing a quote for a Washington, D.C. or Arlington DUI, or a Virginia Grand larceny case is almost impossible to do over the phone. That’s because the facts of every criminal case are different, and the facts determine how much work your defense lawyer will have to do. And the amount of work your lawyer has to do determines the cost of a quality criminal defense. Think of it this way: if you got in a car accident, and wanted to know how much it’s going to cost you to get your car fixed, you can’t just call up your local auto body shop and get a quote. You’ve got to bring the car in and let them have a look. Does it need new parts? How many and which ones? Is there damage to the frame or undercarriage? Every car accident is different, just like every case is different. To give you a quote, I’m going to need to look at the car first.
That being said, it’s not impossible to give you a price range on many cases. I know that I will likely charge between $1500 and $2000 for a Solicitation of prostitution defense. Because a DUI in Washington, D.C. is a lot of work, I will likely quote you between $2500 and $4000. But throw in a second charge of hit and run, (D.C. calls it Leaving after Colliding), and it might be as much as $5000. Defending a Civil Protection Order (this is not criminal, but read why it might as well be) will cost probably costs between $1500 and $3000.
Most lawyers can estimate the costs of a misdemeanor defense, because these cases tend to be more predictable. But if you have a Washington, D.C. or Northern Virginia felony, the nature of these cases make guessing difficult and a little reckless. Felony jury trials are time and labor intensive and you can expect to pay upwards of $10,000 or more. Sometimes much more.
I suppose the conventional wisdom advises against having written this blog. But if having an idea of what it will cost to hire me to defend your D.C. area criminal charge reduces your sticker shock, I think it’s probably worth it. I’m a fan of full disclosure, especially if it saves us both some time.
Now I know that most clients’ first question is what their defense will cost them. But the question they don’t usually ask, even though they’re probably thinking it, is “what do I get for my money.” When you buy a car, you get to drive it home. When you buy a new phone, you get to stare at it while you walk down the sidewalk bumping into people. But what you get in a criminal defense is slightly more intangible. Your attorney will never promise you a result. Even if it was ethically permissible to tell you that your money would buy a not-guilty verdict or a dismissal, any lawyer who made that promise would be lying more than half the time. What you get is the best result that lawyer is capable of getting you. What you get are honest opinions about what your likely outcome is. What you get is someone to guide you through the dauntingly complicated criminal justice system, and some hand-holding if you need it. And hopefully, you get a lawyer you can trust.