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Got a call today from a prospective client needing represent anothernjlawyer04/11/17
Well why the heck is the person still calling around after b onehell04/11/17
You quoted a) a retainer/hourly rate? b) $1,500 of said r sjlawyer04/11/17
I have to agree with sjlawyer here. Your quote is as unreas disappearedattorney04/12/17
Also likely the deadbeat is low balling you with no basis. Y vohod04/11/17
I'd ask if they know that attorney's track record and experi dingbat04/11/17
Why would your retainer be more than you think the case woul ruralattorney04/11/17
I wouldn't mention the market. I'd just say "I charge that dingbat04/11/17
"is it worth it for you to pay me $2,000 to save you from pa onehell04/11/17
You make that argument with the plea offer. sjlawyer04/11/17
let's fix the wording "is it worth it for you to pay me $2,0 dingbat04/11/17
You can say that "your odds of conviction and fines, suspens adamb04/11/17
Don't read too much into it. She was blowing smoke (like mos mrtor04/11/17
Bingo! This is especially true in the rural area that I pra ruralattorney04/11/17
I'm in private practice in a secondary market in the Midwest mrtor04/12/17
Double mrtor04/12/17
Double mrtor04/12/17
She lied. Yes, there's a glut of attorneys and with supply u trickydick04/11/17
As a recently retired criminal solo, I assure you that she m adamb04/11/17
Well if she wasn't lying, then why didn't she hire the dude? onehell04/11/17
Maybe she did hire him after speaking to OP. Many poor peopl adamb04/11/17
Maybe she had a price she was willing to pay for a more expe fartacus04/11/17
I see you as more correct and the guy you know is standard i sjlawyer04/11/17
Adam, this isn't an indictable, this is a disorderly persons sjlawyer04/11/17
In these cases, I did per appearance fees. Usually $500 to s adamb04/11/17
Crazies happen no matter what. The other trick is stacking sjlawyer04/11/17
I can't blame someone for price-shopping. I was just shocked anothernjlawyer04/11/17
Off these cases? Yes. They cull the arrest records from th sjlawyer04/11/17
don't forget rising medical costs. That's eating into folk' themapmaster04/11/17
Criminal client tries to low ball and lie, this is quite the trollfeeder04/11/17
Competing on price is always a losing proposition. Just read shitlawsf04/11/17
If my father-in-law ticket is any indication. When the lett jdcumlaude04/11/17
Not true. In LI - so many people in risk of suspension revoc adamb04/12/17
Stacking appearances make it worth it. sjlawyer04/12/17
I am planning on doing this after tax season. Just a lil jefferson04/11/17
very eye opening thread. I'll jump on the side of those who williamdrayton04/12/17

anothernjlawyer (Apr 11, 2017 - 2:21 pm)

Got a call today from a prospective client needing representation on an underage drinking charge, which is a criminal charge in my state. I quoted a $1500.00 retainer and $250 hourly, with the understanding that the case would probably cost $750-$1,000.00 total absent any complications. This, by the way, is about the same rate I would have charged 6-8 years ago. Case would involve all the usual work, opening a file, obtaining and reviewing discovery, meeting with client, making any applicable motions, going to court at least once, etc..

Prospective client tells me she consulted with another lawyer whose fee is $300.00, flat.

Smallaw is over.

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onehell (Apr 11, 2017 - 2:37 pm)

Well why the heck is the person still calling around after being quoted a $300 flat fee? Can you imagine if you were that other lawyer and you had said "I'll do it for $300" and she responds by saying that she's going to keep shopping around for a lower price?

If she really had gotten such a price, and price was her only criteria, then she would have hired $300 guy on the spot. The fact that she didn't means she either wasn't telling the truth about having gotten such an offer, and/or has incredibly unrealistic expectations if she not only expected you to meet, but beat, a $300 fee. Either way, you're good to be rid of her.

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sjlawyer (Apr 11, 2017 - 3:37 pm)

You quoted
a) a retainer/hourly rate?
b) $1,500 of said retainer?

For a straight underage drinking ticket? $300 flat is awful cheap, but $1500 is absurd at a flat rate, let alone hourly. Then again, I think 10K for a DUI is absurd as well. I know up north, you guys charge a lot more, but this is nuts. In my county, that's probably anywhere from $500-$1000 flat with the letter writers charging closer to $500 but you get what you pay for in terms of a deal.

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disappearedattorney (Apr 12, 2017 - 7:54 am)

I have to agree with sjlawyer here. Your quote is as unreasonable as the $300. I charge $750 flat for these, often split into 2 payments, and often feel like I'm taking advantage.

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vohod (Apr 11, 2017 - 11:52 pm)

Also likely the deadbeat is low balling you with no basis. You saved yourself a headache.

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dingbat (Apr 11, 2017 - 2:34 pm)

I'd ask if they know that attorney's track record and experience. Regardless of their answer, tell them your experience and track record, followed by "how would you feel if that attorney botched it up?". Now here's what I plan to do, why I'm going to do that, and what I think your likely outcome will be. "how will you feel knowing you got the best possible representation?". Then parrot their words, followed by "... is that worth $___"?

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ruralattorney (Apr 11, 2017 - 2:44 pm)

Why would your retainer be more than you think the case would cost? I know that it's criminal law and all, but people aren't going to believe that their case is going to cost less than your retainer.

If you have enough volume, you are better off just making it a flat fee - and this is from someone who is generally not a fan of flat fees.

In regard to the low-baller, when I was in private practice I would be unapologetic about my fee. I would tell them that I charge what the market is willing to pay me, and that the other attorney charges what the market is willing to pay them. I would then tell the prospective client that they could draw their own conclusions from that. More often than not they would stay with me. The ones who didn't were usually pretty awful clients anyway.

And BTW, your fee sounds VERY reasonable.

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dingbat (Apr 11, 2017 - 2:57 pm)

I wouldn't mention the market. I'd just say "I charge that much because I'm worth it"

I don't set my fees by what other attorneys in my market charge - I don't even know what other attorneys in my market charge. I set my fees, and I'm doing fine. If I wasn't, I might charge less. If it looks like the market can bear it, I might raise my fees.
Generally, I look at the value proposition to the client. Is it worth X to the client for me to do my job?

And sometimes I'll flat-out tell them their value proposition, so it's good to know your numbers. For example, if you know that a DUI conviction typically costs $10,000 in fines and increased insurance premiums, it's ok to tell a client that, and then say "is it worth it for you to pay me $2,000 to save you from paying $10,000"?

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onehell (Apr 11, 2017 - 3:27 pm)

"is it worth it for you to pay me $2,000 to save you from paying $10,000"?

I wouldn't say that, because whether they hire you or not, they might still get convicted and pay all those costs. Obviously, you can't make your fee contingent on outcome in a criminal case, nor can you promise that they'll get off if they hire you.

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sjlawyer (Apr 11, 2017 - 3:38 pm)

You make that argument with the plea offer.

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dingbat (Apr 11, 2017 - 3:39 pm)

let's fix the wording "is it worth it for you to pay me $2,000 to potentially save you from paying $10,000"?
You're right not to promise a result, but you can strongly imply it. Maybe say "Potentially it could cost you $20,000, I believe if we do XYZ, we can limit it to under $10,000. Would that be worth my fee of $2,000?"

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adamb (Apr 11, 2017 - 3:42 pm)

You can say that "your odds of conviction and fines, suspension, DMV assessment, classes, interlock, etc., will be reduced tremendously by hiring an experienced attorney as soon as possible before rolling the dice with an assigned PD."

I always told clients that I cannot guarantee outcomes. No reason to hide that fact, and most experienced criminals understand. It is first time offenders who don't know anything and think that they can buy an acquittal/dismissal in the same way as the rich and famous.

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mrtor (Apr 11, 2017 - 3:03 pm)

Don't read too much into it. She was blowing smoke (like most criminal clients), probably in an attempt to get you to lower your fee. While attorneys are becoming more fee conscious, I think that is in response to a larger issue -- that being an increasing amount of clients who simply cannot afford the fees attorneys used to charge. Generally, wages have been stagnating or declining and other amenities (cable, cell phones, Netflix, etc.) are eating up the shrinking discretionary income that is leftover. Most people simply do not have enough to their name to front $1,000+ for a retainer.

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ruralattorney (Apr 11, 2017 - 3:58 pm)

Bingo! This is especially true in the rural area that I practice in. It is 99% of why I got out of private practice. In rural America, the percentage of the population that can afford an attorney is shrinking each year. While the cities are generally doing well, the rest of the country is not.

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mrtor (Apr 12, 2017 - 9:28 am)

I'm in private practice in a secondary market in the Midwest and it's tough. My firm wants its associates to originate, but I have to pass on a lot of cases for financial reasons. A lot of clients want to substitute long term payment plans in place of retainers. Unfortunately, after the work is done the clients either quietly disappear or flip you the bird. What can you do? Aggressive collection will result in social media tirades, bed reviews, and/or a malpractice claim. The only thing worse than not originating much is originating a lot of delinquent accounts.

I cannot wait to get out of billing.

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mrtor (Apr 12, 2017 - 9:28 am)

Double

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mrtor (Apr 12, 2017 - 9:28 am)

Double

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trickydick (Apr 11, 2017 - 3:05 pm)

She lied. Yes, there's a glut of attorneys and with supply up, demand is low. But no one who undercuts the competition by over 50% is staying in business for long.

This sort of nonsense makes me glad I only handle contingency cases. The client isn't my source of income, the client is just a carrying cost.

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adamb (Apr 11, 2017 - 3:27 pm)

As a recently retired criminal solo, I assure you that she may not have been lying. Older attorneys used to gripe, understandably, all the time in the hallways or restrooms about losing a case to some newb charging ridiculous low rates. Like $600 as an initial payment for an already indicted felony. A newb would have no idea that they would have a hard time withdrawing until they'd appeared numerous times and that the client likely would never pay another dime. Many experienced Ds would retain solely to try to intimidate the ADA into thinking that the case was suddenly trial bound in an effort to get a better plea (4 years instead of 7, etc.)

Edit: paying peanuts for a newb rarely changes things. It took years for me to start getting better deals just for appearing on an older case after some ADAs knew that I was for real.

Also, some Ds know that retaining will delay further an old trial-bound case where the only hope of winning is waiting for witnesses to go missing, get arrested, die, etc. Especially if the retained later withdraws, leading to another reassignment and delay. Many experienced guilty Ds facing serious time go through a series of attorneys - not uncommon at all.

Also- sometimes desperate family will keep retaining in the hope that they finally will stumble upon a bargain basement Jonnie Cochran who will file a magic motion to dismiss. You know, because the other lawyers weren't "doing anything" despite overwhelming evidence and horrible raps.

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onehell (Apr 11, 2017 - 3:29 pm)

Well if she wasn't lying, then why didn't she hire the dude? She cannot possibly have expected someone to actually beat $300.

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adamb (Apr 11, 2017 - 3:37 pm)

Maybe she did hire him after speaking to OP. Many poor people treat criminal attorneys as if they were shopping for a car between competing dealerships. Haggle, call around, ignorant of the fact that an attorney that cheap has even less incentive than a random PD with a salary.

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fartacus (Apr 11, 2017 - 3:41 pm)

Maybe she had a price she was willing to pay for a more experienced attorney, like an additional $100 or $200, but not $1200?

I know of a guy who does low-level criminal stuff, same courthouse everyday, and he must have 5-10 cases a day. They all know him, and he runs around. Distinct look so he sticks out to the, as this board says, proles, so even at a low fee if he does 1-2 appearances on a case he probably makes out.

I don't do much criminal, have only ever worked on criminal cases piecemeal with bosses, and have no idea what your jurisdiction is like, but an underage drinking ticket would probably be reduced to a violation, like disorderly conduct, maybe with some community service thrown in, no?

I got a drinking ticket in college along with 2 other students, all 3 of us were from out of state, so we had to go back for the appearance. The 1 guy hired an attorney, they gave him 16 hours community service I think, the second guy got the same without an attorney, I asked to get a fine instead and the judge fined me $100. This was 2003. was a pain in the ass locating the records for C&F. Are underage drinking tickets a big deal?

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sjlawyer (Apr 11, 2017 - 3:52 pm)

I see you as more correct and the guy you know is standard in most areas. There are guys who do it all the time and it's a decent gig.

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sjlawyer (Apr 11, 2017 - 3:42 pm)

Adam, this isn't an indictable, this is a disorderly persons offense in municipal court. Wheeling, dealing and moving cases is the name of the game. I've never seen someone try anything like this and maybe for $1,500 you would try it. But in a case with the (essentially only) consequence of magnitude being loss of DL for a lengthy period (6 months), talking about trial and delay tactics isn't really part of the process.

You'll try to plea your client to an ordinance, have him/her pay a fine and move on.

EDIT: This is subject to other aggravating issues, but I didn't see them noted

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adamb (Apr 11, 2017 - 3:46 pm)

In these cases, I did per appearance fees. Usually $500 to start. If they did not take reasonable plea deals, they were disincentivized to keep me showing up to court dates unless it was on principle. Rare - and they usually were annoying or crazy.

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sjlawyer (Apr 11, 2017 - 3:51 pm)

Crazies happen no matter what. The other trick is stacking cases in muni court. Going on just one case is frustrating.

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anothernjlawyer (Apr 11, 2017 - 3:54 pm)

I can't blame someone for price-shopping. I was just shocked that another lawyer would be that low.

I don't try to "sell myself" to a person after hearing that. These cases aren't my bread and butter, and, in my experience, most people don't want a lawyer who they think needs their business. I just say that the other lawyer can charge what he wants, and we charge for our time as we see fit.

I just don't know how anyone gets enough "street volume" to make money taking cases at $300 a pop. Does this guy get 5 or more new criminal cases each week? That's a heck of a lot of foot traffic for a small firm, in my opinion.

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sjlawyer (Apr 11, 2017 - 3:59 pm)

Off these cases? Yes. They cull the arrest records from the towns, send letters on everything, have an admin take calls and open files and meet the client, probably for the first time, in court. In many cases, they are only marginally better than the Public Defender and typically not.

Others to an initial consult and later meet the client in court re: discovery and a plea offer. Honestly, though, most offers are standard and you already know where you're going.

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themapmaster (Apr 11, 2017 - 3:54 pm)

don't forget rising medical costs. That's eating into folk's discretionary income too. I couldn't help but smile when a hospital CEO complained to me about providing charity care, when doctors are making 150k minimum at his hospital. They have an amazing funding mechanism compared to lawyers (insurance, more important service, far more liberal government reimbursement, shortage of doctors) and they complain. No one truly understands how bad young lawyers have it in a small firm or solo shop unless you're one of them. I was unappointed as an attorney after a trial once it became known my client isn't indigent and now I have bad debt. Poverty law sucks hard.

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trollfeeder (Apr 11, 2017 - 4:46 pm)

Criminal client tries to low ball and lie, this is quite the revelation. Next thing you know, a matrimonial client will be petty. Quote your price, if they don't bite, move on. It doesn't seem like much to gripe about, it seems like a single appearance deal.

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shitlawsf (Apr 11, 2017 - 6:10 pm)

Competing on price is always a losing proposition. Just reading this thread makes me both glad I'm not in private practice and depressed because I have been thinking about going back to it. Small Law is just so sad.

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jdcumlaude (Apr 11, 2017 - 6:58 pm)

If my father-in-law ticket is any indication. When the letters started rolling in I started to do the money-math. Most of the auto-mail lawyers are operating at a loss on most cases that are not at least a DWLR.

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adamb (Apr 12, 2017 - 9:35 am)

Not true. In LI - so many people in risk of suspension revocation will pay $300-$600 per appearance for a snazzy attorney to try to save the license. Trial = more even though they last an hour. Didn't do much of this stuff but it is a real market on LI. Very saturated though and cornered by the boomer cartel.

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sjlawyer (Apr 12, 2017 - 2:24 pm)

Stacking appearances make it worth it.

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jefferson (Apr 11, 2017 - 8:28 pm)

I am planning on doing this after tax season.

Just a lil somn to keep me bizzy, since I made my money for the year alredy..

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williamdrayton (Apr 12, 2017 - 4:42 pm)

very eye opening thread. I'll jump on the side of those who concede that $300 sounds kind of low, but a $1500 retainer and $250 hourly sounds very high. OP eventually mentioned that he doesn't specialize in this type of practice. so he may be unaware of their scope.

in New Jersey, underage drinking is technically "criminal" but it's what's called a "2C" crime - what most people know as a misdemeanor. it is NOT indictable and goes straight to municipal court for a summary hearing. I chuckled when OP mentioned the possibility of filing motions: any kind of motion practice in NJ municipal court is exceedingly rare except for DWI.

sjlawyer has the proper perspective on this matter: showing up in municipal court with an actual attorney will get you some favor with the prosecutor and in the absence of a long criminal history, the offense will most likely be plead down to a local ordinance violation with a fine.

I'm not sure if OP spends much time in municipal court but $300 isn't outrageous because a lot of the practitioners work on volume. they will schedule several cases in the same court on the same day. an underage drinking plea will take about 10 minutes. you get 3-4 cases in the same session for a few hundred bucks a pop, you are doing okay financially. sjlawyer used the term "stacking" and he is correct.

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