Three Common Questions When Hiring A Lawyer
There are several common questions I get when called about a criminal matter. I’ll try to address them with my standard answers here.
How Much Does it Cost to Retain You?
People often ask me what my rate or retainer is. The answer is that I don’t have a set rate. There are a lot of variables that go into what I charge.
First, is the case local or will there be travel? My office is across the street from the 14A-1 District Court, and down the street from both the 14A-2 District Court and the 14B District Court. It’s very easy for me to appear in these courts, so I can charge less than say a case in Oakland County. I don’t mind traveling at all, but I would need to charge me if the case is in Farmington Hills or Southfield than I do if the case is down the street in Ypsilanti.
Second, what are the goals of representation? Some cases I can tell from the beginning we are doing everything we can to fight the case. There will be Freedom of Information Act requests to multiple agencies, maybe lots of discovery to review and fast. I would aggressively file motions, etc. These types of cases are going to require more work than a case where the client at the outset has no desire at all to “fight” the case. Whatever the client wants to do is fine, but the retainer will likely be higher where I know that the staunchest defense is required.
Third, I take into account the complexity of the case and the potential time obligations. A felony retainer will cost more than a misdemeanor, because felonies are more complicated and will require more court hearings. The ins and outs of felony work are far greater than misdemeanor, by virtue of the case being a felony.
What Will You Do for me that the Public Defender Won’t?
The law says people who cannot afford an attorney will have one appointed to them by the court at no expense (although in felonies people often have to pay something). This law is one of the most important safeguards our system has. There should never be a situation where a person is unrepresented because of lack of resources. Conversely, a person with sufficient means should not go with the public defender because those resources should be left to people without resources.
Having said that, there are a few benefits to a private attorney over the pubic defender. First though, it should be noted that public defenders tend to be the most experienced attorneys in the room. They handle large volumes of cases, know the judges, prosecutors, and law well, in addition to having lots of trial experience.
However, those benefits come with drawbacks. A public defender may have less time to be with each individual client. A public defender attorney might also have less time to prepare for case evaluation, investigation, and trial preparation.
When you hire a private attorney, you are paying for the attorney to devote a set amount of time for your case. The expectation is the attorney will devote generous amount of time to case investigation and generous time meeting and speaking with you. This extra attention to you and your case is valuable.
Also, a private attorney can help with situations in which the current criminal case is intertwined with other legal matters. For example, a common situation is where a client’s new case is also a probation violation in another court. Or the client hires you for one case but has bench warrants for other cases that are outstanding. A private attorney is able to appear in multiple courts for the same client, whereas the public defender may only be in either a specific court or a specific county.
What Can You Promise Me?
Clients often ask what types of reassurances I can give them about their case. Here’s what I tell them: I can promise you nothing. I say this even when in my head I pretty much know the outcome. I give this answer because there is simply no way to predict what will happen.
Often on the initial phone call I don’t even get the full story. For example, I’m told the client is charged with super drunk driving. Then I later find out the client is also charged with three counts of resisting arrest. My prediction of your case means nothing if it turns out you have all these other charges.
Also, this area of law is dynamic and volatile. It is contentious. We’re running trials here and anything can happen in a trial. I’m not going to guarantee a Not Guilty verdict when you’ve just called me and given me few details of your case, or even when I do know all the details of the case. Every case is unique, and many cases come with curveballs that cannot be predicted at the outset. All I can predict at the outset of the case is there will be curveballs.
I can promise the potential client a few things, though, just not the outcome. I can promise to do everything in my power to achieve the goals of the client. This means I will perform any amount of research and preparation necessary to win the case. I will go to as many court dates as it takes to reach a certain plea deal.
Let’s say we running a bench trial for disorderly conduct, something I did the other week. I put hours and hours of preparation into what many attorneys would consider to be an unimportant part of their week. I researched case law, found favorable opinions. I spent time working on cross examinations of police officers. I sat down with the client at my office to explain everything I was doing and everything that would happen in trial. That is standard procedure for me. Whether you’re charged with disorderly conduct, domestic assault, or home invasion, we can always meet to talk about the case.
All calls, e-mails, and texts will be answered promptly. The last thing I do is take your money and run. Everyday I have multiple phone calls, meetings, and conversations with my clients. I keep my clients well-informed about every aspect of the case and the law of their case.
For example, if you are charged with operating while intoxicated I will make sure you understand the difference between operating while intoxicated and operating while visibly impaired. I will explain the driver’s license sanctions of OWI High BAC. I will ensure you understand what it means to be under the influence of alcohol. As an attorney I am pointless if I’m not explaining these concepts to clients and ensuring they have a working knowledge and understanding of the law.
Sam Bernstein is a Criminal Attorney in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.
ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave., Ypsilanti, MI 48108.