In the event you are accused of a crime, you will probably be uncertain about the next steps. Criminal defence lawyers can help. Legal representation is crucial in criminal cases both outside and inside the courtroom. However, good legal representation comes with its costs. This article will set out the ins and outs of legal fees for criminal defence lawyers in the United Kingdom, including some indicative fees to give you an idea of what to expect.
Lawyers often charge per hour of their time worked and the services rendered. This can cover a broad range of activities, all related to a criminal case. Criminal cases are difficult to build, depending on the complexity of the case. It can involve meetings with the accused person, finding witnesses, formulating legal arguments, to name but a few activities. But what can a lawyer specifically charge for?
Charges will include the fee the lawyer charges (often per person per hour worked), out of pocket expenses, disbursements, court and expert witness fees, and potentially barrister fees if the case goes to trial. This could extend to travel expenses, printing, phone calls, even brainstorming and discussing the matter constructively and productively with colleagues. All of this qualifies as legal, billable work. If you have been arrested and are in custody, you can call most criminal defence lawyers’ 24/7 hotline to discuss bail options, which will be charged. In some cases, the lawyer will also charge a ‘success’ fee where, if they are successful in your defence, an extra fee will be charged.
It is important to note that fees may be charged regardless of the success of the lawyer’s representation. That is, even if you are found guilty, a lawyer may and will likely charge for the time worked and services rendered. When working on a ‘contingency’ basis, a firm will only charge if their case is successful; in other words, if the accused person is found not guilty or has their charges dropped before even appearing in court, there will be a fee, but if the person is found guilty at trial, there will be no fee. These arrangements are uncommon in the UK because there is a considerable amount of time spent on defending those who are ultimately found guilty, and lawyers cannot predict the outcome of cases reliably.
A court can, but is not obliged, to make a costs order at the end of a case. This could include the ‘losing party’ having to pay the legal costs of the ‘winning party’. Circumstances where the prosecution was frivolous could justify such an order. So, for example, if a person is accused of a crime, goes to court, and is found innocent, a court may but will not necessarily order that the costs of the defendant be paid by the prosecution.
Be careful though – if found guilty, the court can also order that the guilty person pay all costs for the court and prosecution. In this case, one can arrange for insurance through their criminal defence lawyer – insurance that will cover the costs of the other party in the event the case is lost, and legal costs are ordered to be paid to the winning party i.e., the court and prosecution.
By the hour
The most common way a lawyer will charge is per the hour, excluding VAT and disbursements. When lawyers charge by the hour they will either send bills at regular intervals or at the end of the case, depending on complexity and length of the representation.
Sometimes a lawyer may require a retainer to be paid upfront. This could be quoted per the hour, for instance, that they may want 10 hours’ worth of time paid before they start working on your case. This works as a type of insurance that an accused person will be able to pay for the services rendered.
Fixed fee agreements
Fixed fee agreements are simple. The criminal defence lawyer will determine upfront how much a type of matter will cost and quotes that amount for that work. The quote could be limited by assumptions: that there are no unexpected turns in the case, that it will require only a certain number of hours to conclude the case, and that only one court appearance is required. Anything that requires more work than quoted for would be over and above that, meaning the accused person will have to pay extra.
Contingency fee arrangements
Contingency fee arrangements work on a no-win, no-fee basis. In other words, if one’s case is not successful, they will not owe the lawyer a fee.
In any event, the manner in which a criminal defence lawyer is charging an accused person should be clearly set out and agreed with the accused person prior to any work commencing.
The average costs for hiring a criminal lawyer are difficult to pin down, as it depends on several factors. Firstly, criminal lawyers often charge more than private law or civil lawyers due to the complexity of the cases and the fact that one’s liberty is at stake. This is the most significant indicator of fees: rate per the hour. A lawyer’s rate per the hour depends on their experience and seniority. More experienced lawyers with a certain level of expertise will accordingly charge more than junior lawyers, though juniors do not work alone – they work with and support the seniors. Generally, an estimated fee will be quoted, but that is subject to change. When charged a fixed fee, this works differently, and a once-off fee is charged.
Another factor is the size of the firm in which the lawyer works. Law firms often set the hourly rate for their lawyers. Larger firms charge more per the hour than average as it is thought they attract more experience and expertise than other firms. Mid-sized and small-sized firms will charge less than the ‘Magic Circle’ on average.
What one can be charged also depends on the court in which one is to appear. Cases in the Magistrate’s Courts are simpler and will be cheaper, while the Crown Court and Appeal Courts will attract significantly higher fees due to the complexity and length of the cases. A trial will be significantly higher than, for instance, settling outside of court, reaching a plea bargain, or having charged dropped before heading to court with the help of a criminal defence lawyer. This also depends on various factors and events in a criminal case. However, despite the incentive to proceed to trial, criminal defence lawyers are proud of their cases and fight to avoid court at all costs for the benefit of their clients.
In all cases, the criminal lawyer should be clear and transparent about how they will charge and conclude what is known as a Terms of Business (or other agreement as discussed) in order to give certainty as to how one is being charged.
The UK government has provided some guidance for solicitors on what to charge per hour to their clients. It is however only guidance and lawyers can deviate from it, especially where they are charging fixed fees. The main takeaways from the guidance are that (i) hourly rates differ significantly based on years of experience and seniority in a law firm, and (ii) London fees are significantly higher than the rest of the United Kingdom. The fees differ throughout the different areas of London, as well as throughout different areas in the rest of the United Kingdom, all listed on the website.
Solicitors in the rest of the United Kingdom may charge significantly lower fees than those in London.
If you are facing criminal charges and want to get more information on criminal defence solicitors fees, get in touch with the team at Stuart Miller Solicitors today. We have a friendly and non-judgmental staff that will help you to understand what kinds of costs you might face, and how you can arrange payment of your legal bills. Contact us as soon as possible for a no-obligation consultation.