Saturday, March 06, 2010


As the economy continues to tumble (no, those "good numbers" on the news are not true, the economy still sucks and it's getting worse) the issue of legal fees becomes, well, more of an issue.

People say to me all the time - "the economy must be great for you - people are probably getting in trouble more." (domestic violence, DUI, theft).

Maybe, but here's the obvious - when people don't have money, they don't have money. When people have no access to credit, they have no access to credit. And when people are looking to save whatever money they don't have, they pay more attention to where they spend it.

Most people, even the ones who deny this, hire a criminal defense lawyer using the following formula:

1. How much money do I have to spend on a lawyer?
2. Who will charge me an amount less than that?
3. Hire that lawyer.

There is also a little tactic that is rearing it's ugly head more and more - trying to get money back.

A colleague told me recently of a case where the client paid half the retainer and then the case was not filed. This was a case that would have had a significant effect on the client's future, as most criminal cases. It was not filed due to some quick and hard work by the lawyer. When the lawyer called the client to advise of the results, the client asked for a portion of the half of the retainer he paid. He said he "needed the money." The lawyer responded by agreeing not to seek payment of the other half of the retainer.

I've heard this throughout the years, but I'm hearing it more and more these days. People have to get money from somewhere - even if it's from someone they agreed to pay.

The request usually comes with some specious threat to file a Bar complaint, so let's review:

Legal fees are determined by the following: The time and labor required, the novelty, complexity, and difficulty of the questions involved, and the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly; the likelihood that the acceptance of the particular employment will preclude other employment by the lawyer; the fee, or rate of fee, customarily charged in the locality for legal services of a comparable or similar nature; the significance of, or amount involved in, the subject matter of the representation, the responsibility involved in the representation, and the results obtained; the time limitations imposed by the client or by the circumstances and, as between attorney and client, any additional or special time demands or requests of the attorney by the client; the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client; the experience, reputation, diligence, and ability of the lawyer or lawyers performing the service and the skill, expertise, or efficiency of effort reflected in the actual providing of such services; and whether the fee is fixed or contingent, and, if fixed as to amount or rate, then whether the client's ability to pay rested to any significant degree on the outcome of the representation.

Note: Time and labor required is one factor.

One, factor.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer.

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