Colin asked, in a comment to this post about criminal-defense lawyers and criminal pretense lawyers,
“For those of us who aren’t lawyers, how much does a crappy defense lawyer usually cost? How much does a good defense attorney usually cost?”
There’s no good answer to those questions. The criminal pretense lawyer might ask $250 for a case that requires $5,000 worth of lawyering, or $1,000 for a case that needs $50,000 worth of brainpower. But some V-6s I’ve seen charge a boatload of money to sell their clients down the river. There are a couple of guys who get lots of referrals from inmates in the Federal Detention Center and charge lots of money — more money than I might charge to fight like hell — to do an objectively crappy job in federal court.
But inexpensive lawyers are not necessarily bad. When I was a young lawyer I charged some fees that more-experienced lawyers thought were scandalously low. I was hungry for work, and I didn’t know how to price my services. I remember taking a habitual aggravated robbery case (a 25-to-life case) for $2,500; later I heard the appointed lawyer whom I replaced on the case talking to a colleague: “some of these young lawyers are taking serious felony cases for $2,500,” he said, shaking his head. As New York criminal defense attorney Scott Greenfield writes, “The young but caring criminal-defense lawyer offers the best chance of hope [for the working poor], but they aren’t easy to find for the regular person.”
If money seems to be the focus of a lawyer’s practice — if, for example, he advertises his fees, or if he undercuts other people’s fees, or if he charges for a consultation, or if he charges by the court appearance — that’s a pretty good indication that he’s not a warrior. Beware.
I usually won’t even talk about money over the phone, except in two circumstances that don’t apply in most cases. Money is the last thing I want to talk about with a potential client — I hate quoting fees. I’m a lousy businessman. In fact, I usually find that the fee that I think is appropriate for a given case is higher than some of my colleagues would charge. I don’t try to undercut them, though; I quote the fee that I think the case merits. More often than not the client hires me anyway.