Attorney Fees and Costs
The first worry in almost every criminal case is what will happen to the defendant now that criminal charges have been filed. Jail, prison, lose a job, will anyone accept my version of what happened as the truth. The second worry: how much will a lawyer charge and how can we afford him? The court will no doubt require that you hire a lawyer but you were not planning on any of this to happen. Lawyers are expensive and often they vary in how much they charge. Most lawyers charge by the hour and there is little way of knowing how many hours a particular case will take. In criminal defense, many lawyers charge an estimated or flat fee to cover pretrial preparation and most hearings except for jury trial. It may be possible to pay one half or less down as a retainer and pay the rest over a period of time. Usually the lawyer will want to be paid in full before the last hearing but in exceptional cases it may be possible to make monthly payments for twelve months or more, interest free. When you ask a lawyer for a free consultation, one of the main topics will be how much will legal services cost and how quickly do you need to pay off the balance due. Unfortunately, each case is different both in terms of how much legal fees will be and a payment plan.
It may be helpful, however, to read our standard fee agreement to understand some of the basic terms. Often some terms have to be changed to fit your situation but this standard agreement is a good place to start:
We, the Defendant and anyone cosigning on behalf of Defendant, enter into the following Fee Agreement with Aarons Law Firm PC by Stephen D Aarons:
Flat Fee: $0,000.00
NM Gross Receipts Tax (01-123)(8.4375%): 000.00
Extra Expenses: + 0.00
Subtotal for Fees, Tax and Expenses: $0,000.00
Minus Retainer (down payment): –$0,000.00
Total Balance Due: $0,000.00
- FLAT FEE: The lawyer will handle the entire case for a flat fee and will be paid after each benchmark. Upon payment of the retainer, he will earn the first ten percent (10%) of the fee, enter his appearance and begin work to the exclusion of other cases. He will earn the second tenth after the arraignment, first appearance, or a filed waiver. The third tenth will be the second hearing or indictment. The lawyer will earn 40% of the flat fee at arraignment or waiver in district court. The lawyer will have earned one half of the flat fee at any second district court hearing and the sixth benchmark at the third or docket call. Jury selection or written waiver will mark 70% of the fee. Eighty percent will be earned at the conclusion of trial on the merits or Defendant’s voluntary change of plea under a plea agreement. Ninety percent will be earned at the conclusion of any sentence hearing. The remainder of the fee will be earned whenever the case is closed such as by filing of a judgment and sentence, conditional discharge, dismissal by the prosecutor with or without prejudice, notice of suspension of proceedings upon acceptance into a pre-prosecution diversion program, or failure to prosecute. If the prosecutor refiles the same charges, the lawyer will represent the defendant without an additional sum even though he may have already earned all or part of the flat fee. If defendant intends to appeal, the lawyer will also file a notice of appeal and any docketing statement.
EXTRA EXPENSES: In addition to legal fees, we understand that we may have to pay for extra out of pocket expenses such as private investigator fees, mileage at 50 cents per mile, transcription fees, polygraph or other expert witness fees, and costs to prepare exhibits for trial. We request to be informed before the lawyer incurs expenses and we will pay $50 for any bounced check.
LEGAL SERVICES: The lawyer will represent Defendant to the best of his ability throughout the criminal case. The flat fee does not, however, cover revocation of conditions of release, bench warrants, probation violations after the court entered the judgment and sentence, briefs and oral argument on appeal, retrial after mistrial or reversal of conviction on appeal, or other matters which will be billed at a $350 hourly rate unless we agree to another flat fee. Nor will the lawyer provide legal advice regarding notice of tort claims, civil rights, statutes of limitation, or any other matter beyond the scope of this criminal case.
EARLY DISCHARGE: Defendant may discharge or “fire” the lawyer at any time without any reason. For good cause, such as failure to make monthly payments, the lawyer also may withdraw from the case. If discharged early, he will refund any unearned fees based on the benchmarks and hourly rate.
RELEASE. At the conclusion of the case, we will promptly pick up any items in the file. You have permission to scan, shred and dispose of anything in your possession after 30 days. We should consult with another lawyer before we sign a Release if we want to file a claim for poor legal work.
DISPUTES. The defendant has ten days after each disbursement from the client trust account to contest it by email or other writing. All controversies are between the defendant, co-signors and Aarons Law Firm PC and will be submitted to binding arbitration by an arbiter selected by the New Mexico Bar Association Fee Arbitration Program; 5121 Masthead NE; Albuquerque NM 87109; telephone (505) 797-6068. Santa Fé state district court is the exclusive venue for any lawsuit filed between the parties and the law of New Mexico will apply to any dispute. If we fail to pay the entire balance due and you begin collection efforts in civil court, then we must pay all court costs, fees and interest at 2% per month (24% APR) compounded monthly from the first month we failed to pay.
CO-SIGNOR. Co-signor has express authority from Defendant to sign this fee agreement. Each Co-signor personally guarantees payment of all sums due under the terms of this fee agreement and is jointly and severally liable for the total balance due. Regardless of who pays the fees, only the Defendant decides how to proceed and whether the attorney may discuss confidential matters with others.
MODIFICATIONS. This fee agreement represents the entire understanding of the parties unless we later modify it in writing and signed by the parties. We understood its terms before signing. If any portion of this Fee Agreement is declared void, the remainder shall remain in full force.
SIGNED on 28 January 2018 in Santa Fé, New Mexico, by:
/s/ Defendant’s Signature: …………………………………………………….
Stephen D Aarons
Aarons Law PC
2019 Galisteo St. Suite H1
Santa Fé NM 87505
(505) 984-1100; (fax) 984-1110