I understand hourly and "case" billing. But are there any "extras" I’ll be charged for?
Defendants should carefully examine the terms of the attorney-client agreement they are asked to sign. Until recently, this would have been difficult, because many attorney-client arrangements were oral and based on handshakes. Today, after reaching agreement with a defendant about fees, a lawyer will almost certainly ask the defendant to sign a written retainer agreement or fee agreement. The agreement is a written contract, fully enforceable in court, which specifies the attorney’s fee and the services the lawyer will perform for that fee.
Knowing the amount of an attorney’s fee is one thing; knowing what services it covers is quite another. Many defendants who are fully aware of what their attorneys will charge are surprised when their attorneys inform them that they will have to pay extra for services that the defendants thought were included in the fee. (For more on paying for expenses, see Should a criminal defense lawyer include expenses in the fee for representation?)
The reality is that most cases are settled before trial. Because of this, a fee agreement may include an attorney’s services only up until the time of trial. A defendant who wants to go to trial may therefore get a jolt when the attorney says, “My additional fee to take the case to trial will be $$$.”
Additional expenses that may come as a surprise to a defendant include the cost of a private investigator, expert witness fees, and the costs of copying documents and subpoenaing witnesses.
There are no standard agreements. Just because one attorney performed a set of legal services for one all-inclusive fee does not mean that another attorney will do likewise. The key for defendants is to read retainer agreements carefully and ask their attorneys to explain possible extras.