I posted recently on questions people should ask themselves and potential attorneys when anyone feels they need to hire a federal criminal defense lawyer. The earlier post focused on questions dealing with the attorney’s qualifications, and whether he or she would be the right “fit” for the client and that case. Today, we talk about what is often the bigger issue for many people; money.
OK, here’s the first point, and it is painful. Lawyers are expensive. Lawyers who specialize in federal criminal defense are very expensive. And, lawyers who are among the best at handling federal criminal cases are sometimes extraordinarily expensive. There are several reasons why really good criminal defense lawyers handling federal cases are so expensive. I’ll talk about that in a minute. However, just because the top federal criminal defenders usually charge a lot of money, that does not mean a good defense is too expensive for most people.
For starters, there is the nationwide system funded by the Criminal Justice Act, or “CJA”. Under the CJA, there is a “public defender” in every federal judicial district. Furthermore, qualified private lawyers handle overflow work and cases where the public defender might have a conflict of interest. The vast majority of federal public defenders and CJA private counsel are capable lawyers, and a few are very good. Therefore, if someone is “indigent”, it is possible to have the court appoint a “free” lawyer, and these attorneys are often better than some attorney who says he or she will take a federal case for far less than the fees most attorneys are charging. People should be wary and suspicious of an attorney who says she or he can handle a federal criminal case for less than $10,000 (most cases are far, far more expensive than this amount). These matters are usually so complex that the lawyer who charges such a fee will have a very big incentive to not work hard and to try and convince the client to plead guilty without every assessing the merits of the case. Continue reading