Have you noticed that when you need something, the price usually goes up? For example, when COVID-19 hit, face mask prices increased 500 percent in some areas. That’s the basic law of supply and demand. When demand goes up, so does the price.
Many people assume this law applies to criminal defense attorneys, but they are bound by legal ethics. If you’re wondering how much does a criminal defense lawyer cost, the answer depends on your charges and your income.
Keep reading to learn how to calculate the rough cost of criminal defense in Buffalo, MN. And stick around for a list of qualities to look for in your Buffalo attorney.
How Much Does Buffalo Criminal Defense Representation Cost?
Experts have estimated that Minnesota criminal lawyers charge an average of $245 per hour. An average means that some criminal defense lawyers will charge more than that per hour, and others will charge less.
Compared to other lawyers in Minnesota, this hourly rate falls somewhere in the middle. Minnesota personal injury lawyers generally charge the lowest hourly fee at an average of $163 per hour. Meanwhile, Minnesota attorneys who draft trusts generally charge the highest rate at an average of $339 per hour.
You can also compare the hourly rate of Minnesota criminal attorneys to the national average per hour fee. In 2020, the average attorney charged about $200 per hour. On the low end, lawyers charged an average of $100–$150 and, on the high end, $300–$350 per hour.
As you can see, Minnesota criminal attorneys charge clients at about the average national per hour rate.
Why Criminal Defense Lawyers Must Set Fixed Fees for Certain Services
Many jurisdictions in the US place limitations on how much an attorney can charge per hour or in flat fees. The goal is to prevent outrageous and prohibitive fees. However, many states have very lax definitions of what “outrageous” means.
Fortunately, that’s not the way it works in this area. Legal ethics require attorneys to set fixed fees for certain services. Experience level is usually the biggest factor. So, as an attorney gains experience over the years, the attorney can charge more money. There are some other factors as well, which are outlined below. Admittedly, some of these factors are rather subjective. But one thing is for sure. Lawyers cannot double or triple their fees because you had a brush with the law.
Nevertheless, retaining the services of a good Buffalo criminal lawyer is a significant investment. Before you transmit your credit card information, there are a number of things to consider. Always remember that you have choices in this area. Your criminal case is a very serious matter, but it is not a matter of imminent life and death. People usually have a few days to make a decision.
Free Lawyers in Buffalo, MN
In a significant number of cases, the cost of a Minnesota criminal defense lawyer is nothing, or at least practically nothing. The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to counsel in criminal cases. Therefore, Wright County provides attorneys to defendants who qualify for such assistance. Exact procedure varies in different counties, and in different courts in the same county. However, the free lawyer choices are always the same: a public defender or a court-appointed lawyer.
The Public Defender’s Office
The public defender’s office usually assigns one lawyer to a misdemeanor court and two to a felony court. Reinforcements are usually available, especially in a serious felony case, like a complex sex crime prosecution.
Essentially, the public defender’s office is like a private criminal defense law firm. Since the county pays all the firm’s expenses, the clients pay nothing. Frequently, public defenders are underfunded. The Wright County Commissioners are not made of money, and there is only so much funding to go around. Making matters worse, public defenders are usually at the end of the bread line. Voters usually don’t mind paying money for roads, schools, and other things that benefit many people. Paying for someone’s Buffalo, MN criminal defense lawyer is not a major item on voter wish lists.
As a result, there is some truth to the image of the overworked public defender. According to an American Bar Association study, some public defenders juggled up to 400 cases at once. That’s a bit deceptive, mostly because most criminal cases settle out of court, and settle rather quickly. More on that below. Nevertheless, there is some cause for concern.
Private Attorneys for Those Who Cannot Afford a Lawyer
To bypass this issue, many Wright County judges appoint private attorneys for people who cannot afford lawyers. Sometimes, judges screen the attorneys they appoint. That’s especially true in the aforementioned serious felony cases. Indeed, in a capital case, the state imposes additional requirements. But in many misdemeanors, judges appoint any attorney who can find the courthouse door.
Not everyone qualifies for a court-appointed attorney or a public defender. These qualifications vary in different courts. Some judges simply ask defendants if they can afford legal representation. Others require defendants to submit financial affidavits.
What Is the Incarceration Presumption?
There is also an incarceration presumption. Most judges connect bail money with the money to hire a lawyer. They assume that if the defendant cannot afford bail, the defendant cannot afford an attorney either. That’s usually accurate. However, just because a defendant can scrape up bail money, that doesn’t mean s/he can afford an attorney. Furthermore, if the defendant obtained free pretrial release, the incarceration presumption should still apply. But it usually doesn’t, at least in the minds of many judges.
A Court-Appointed Lawyer Is Permanent
Defendants who go with a free lawyer get what they get and they can’t throw a fit. Once a judge assigns a court-appointed lawyer, that assignment is permanent, unless the defendant hires a private Buffalo, MN criminal defense lawyer. Similarly, if a defendant goes to the public defender’s office, the chief public defender has the exclusive right to assign lawyers to individual cases.
Your Right to Counsel of Your Own Choosing
On a related note, the Supreme Court recently ruled that the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel means defendants have the right to counsel of their own choosing. This issue occasionally comes up in some drug crime matters. Prosecutors cannot seize so much cash during a raid that the defendant cannot afford to hire the lawyer s/he wants to hire.
Representing Yourself in Buffalo, MN
Incidentally, you can represent yourself in a court case, including a criminal case. If you’re asking how much does a criminal defense lawyer cost because you don’t think you can afford it, explore your options before making a decision. As a rule of thumb, if the criminal case includes possible jail time, self-representation is one of the biggest mistakes a person can make.
How Do Attorneys Determine Legal Fees?
This question is really two questions. First, as mentioned, attorneys must use certain factors to determine their fees. Second, different attorneys use different fee structures.
Factors That Determine Legal Fees
Years of experience is usually the biggest factor which determines legal fees. Inexperienced lawyers cannot charge as much as experienced Buffalo, MN criminal lawyers. That doesn’t mean a less experienced lawyer is not as good. It just means these attorneys cannot charge as much.
Other factors include:
- Geographic Area: Attorneys in big cities like Minneapolis usually charge more than attorneys in smaller communities like Buffalo. Rent, payroll, and other expenses are higher in big cities.
- Client’s Ability to Pay: Attorneys can reduce their fees if the client cannot pay full price. That’s especially true if the client is from a historically underserved or neglected ethnic or socioeconomic group.
- Complexity of the Matter: Some criminal cases are relatively straightforward and others are not. DUI is a good example. If the defendant submitted a blood sample, the case is pretty black and white. But if the defendant refused to provide any chemical sample, the case is much more complex. The state must rely on shaky circumstantial evidence in these matters. Furthermore, most Buffalo criminal lawyers also charge more for felonies than misdemeanors. Felonies are more complex, and there is more at stake.
- Amount of Time Involved: Attorneys usually charge less for a criminal plea than a criminal trial, simply because there is not as much time involved. Many criminal attorneys charge stairstep fees, such as X for a negotiated settlement, X+Y for a bench trial, and X+Y+Z for a jury trial.
- Technology Use: Attorneys may increase their fees when they have to use technology. Lawyers typically subscribe to software programs, which are expensive. If your case requires significant use of these expensive systems, your attorney may add the cost to your bill.
- Practice Area: Some criminal cases are easier to argue than others, and the lawyer’s fee will reflect that. The more time, resources, and knowledge required to defend your case, the higher the rate you’ll ultimately pay.
These factors can start to add up. That’s why many criminal lawyers in Buffalo, MN use two different fee structures. We’re going into detail about the two major ways lawyers charge their clients next.
Now, let’s talk about fee structure. Buffalo, MN defense attorneys generally use one of two fee structures: a flat fee or an hourly rate.
As mentioned, many criminal defense lawyers charge flat fees. For example, Pam might charge $1,000 for a felony plea, no matter how much time she puts into the case.
Other lawyers charge hourly fees. Hourly billing is a bit more common in civil cases.
These two fee structures have pros and cons. For example, flat fees can save clients money if the criminal case goes on for longer than expected, but they will cost you if the reverse happens.
At the same time, flat fees can incentivize lawyers to tie up a case as quickly as possible, though sometimes at the risk of quality. Hourly rates, on the other hand, can incentivize bad criminal lawyers to drag their feet so they can increase their final paycheck.
By now, you may be wondering: what about criminal lawyer contingent fees?
The law prohibits criminal defense attorneys from charging contingent fees. Minnesota Court Rule #5 specifically states that it is illegal for state-licensed lawyers to charge contingencies for criminal cases and domestic disputes. Therefore, defendants usually have to pay at least some money upfront.
How Do I Know I’m Getting a Good Value for the Cost of a Buffalo Lawyer?
If you face criminal charges in Wright County, when it comes to legal representation, you have almost a dizzying array of choices.
At first blush, pretty much all Buffalo, MN criminal lawyers seem alike. They all went to law school and all passed the bar exam. But upon closer inspection, there are some important differences.
The Experience of Your Buffalo, MN Lawyer Is Invaluable
As mentioned, years of experience is probably the single most important factor in this entire process. Experience is the best teacher. Furthermore, there are a number of techniques that law students do not learn in class. Finally, each county and court has its own written and unwritten procedural rules. You do not know them all unless you have handled cases in that jurisdiction.
Years of experience could be deceptive. As recently as 1990, non-jury or jury trials resolved about a fifth of the criminal cases in Minnesota. Today, that proportion is less than 5 percent. Therefore, many Buffalo, MN criminal lawyers practice for years, or even decades, and only handle a few criminal trials.
We all fall into ruts if we are not careful. Sometimes, these attorneys fall into a rut of always, or at least usually, taking the state’s first offer. Prosecutors usually don’t make favorable offers to these lawyers.
So, be sure and ask about the attorney’s trial experience. For example, ask the attorney about his/her most complicated or memorable trial. Lawyers love telling war stories. If the attorney has to think about this answer because s/he has such limited trial experience, that’s a bad sign.
The Expertise of Your Buffalo, MN Criminal Attorney
Studies show that experienced attorneys often have better success rates. For example, a 1999 report analyzed success rates for experienced and inexperienced attorneys arguing cases before the US Court of Appeals.
The study found that judges are more likely to decide a case in an attorney’s favor if that professional is experienced. Inexperienced lawyers who didn’t specialize in a particular field of law, on the other hand, were found to have lower success rates in the US Court of Appeals.
Unfamiliarity with applicable processes and laws is the #1 reason inexperienced lawyers are less successful. Also, the researchers suggested that an inexperienced attorney may overestimate the likelihood of a case’s success.
What does all this mean for you? Make sure your attorney specializes in criminal rather than civil law. Only choose a criminal lawyer who has argued cases like yours in the future. And ask about your attorney’s success rate when it comes to the exact charges you’re facing.
Accessibility from Your Buffalo Criminal Defense Lawyer
The lawyer’s accessibility, or lack thereof, could be another bad sign. It could also be a very good sign.
Legally, as mentioned above, attorneys cannot assess fees based on supply and demand. So, many lawyers use volume to earn more money. Attorneys are rarely as overworked ast the unfortunate public defenders discussed above. But sometimes, they take more cases than they should.
Commonly, overworked attorneys cannot commit the amount of time they should to an individual case. So, they might miss an important detail. Furthermore, many overworked lawyers assign legal work to less-experienced associates or non-lawyer paralegals. That’s not the caliber of defense the client is paying for.
It’s probably also best to avoid overly-accessible lawyers. If you want to try a new restaurant and there are no customers in the parking lot, that’s usually a bad sign. By the same token, if an attorney has few clients, there’s usually a reason.
Goldilocks looked long and hard to find a bowl of porridge, chair, and bed that was just right. Criminal defendants should also look for a “just right” lawyer in terms of accessibility. However, don’t look too long. The sooner you partner with a Buffalo, MN criminal lawyer, the sooner the case will be over.
Dedication from a Lawyer that Lives in Buffalo
Many people have family lawyers, especially in smaller communities like Buffalo. The same attorney handles your divorce, prepares your will, settles your car crash claim, and so on. There’s a level of trust in these relationships that’s usually unavailable elsewhere. Trust is important in a criminal defense situation. But a criminal conviction, even for a misdemeanor, could easily ruin your life. So, you need someone who is dedicated to criminal law.
The late Grant Cooper, who represented Robert Kennedy’s assassin in 1969, is a good example. When Cooper agreed to represent Sirhan Sirhan, Cooper was a highly experienced lawyer. But Cooper wasn’t really a criminal defense lawyer. He handled a wide array of cases. For example, former child star Shirey Temple hired Grant Cooper to handle her divorce from B-movie actor John Agar.
As a result, Cooper might have missed some weaknesses in the state’s evidence. Maybe that’s why Sirhan remains in a California prison to this day.
Incidentally, one of the latest Kennedy conspiracy theories is that Cooper intentionally threw the Sirhan case so the Los Angeles County District Attorney wouldn’t indict him on some unrelated gambling charges. But that’s just speculation.
Aggressive Representation from Your Buffalo Criminal Defense Attorney
If your criminal defense attorney charges an hourly rate, the best thing you can do for your wallet is to choose an aggressive lawyer. Aggressive defense attorneys will never drag their feet and will do anything it takes to get you the best possible outcome.
However, it’s important to differentiate between aggressive representation and an aggressive personality. Someone with an aggressive personality could actually lead to the opposite: you’ll end up paying more. Aggressive lawyers may argue every single point the prosecution brings against you, which could be a waste of your time.
Aggressive personalities could also mean a poorer outcome for you if he or she antagonizes the judge. But aggressive representation will ensure you get your day in court and a fair one at that. That’s why it’s critical to find a criminal defense lawyer in Buffalo, MN who will relentlessly fight for your rights.
Consult with a Knowledgeable Criminal Defense Lawyer in Buffalo, MN
Even if you’re asking how much does a criminal defense lawyer cost, you do not want just any lawyer. You want a dedicated Buffalo, MN criminal lawyer to handle your case. Your family lawyer will understand your decision. Besides, you can still invite him/her to your next dinner party.
The cost of a criminal defense lawyer in Buffalo, MN varies in different situations. For a free consultation with an experienced Buffalo, MN criminal lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. Convenient payment plans are available.