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The Cost of a Good Lawyer – Or: How Much Is Your Freedom Worth?

If you have been accused (or you think that you may be accused) of a crime, you will soon have to make a decision as to which attorney will be representing you.

You will be concerned about the cost of good legal representation, and you should be.  You have a great deal at stake.  It has been said that your health is the most important thing.  I disagree.  Your freedom from incarceration is the most important thing.  You can be free but in poor health and still have an acceptable quality of life, but if you go jail, your quality of life drops to zero.

Having established the importance of obtaining the best legal representation, it must quickly be stated that price-shopping for legal representation in a criminal matter is as foolish as trying to find the cheapest doctor for a serious medical condition.

Like many experienced criminal attorneys, I set my retainer on a “sliding scale” based on the seriousness of the case and my client’s ability to afford private counsel.  This issue of cost of representation is part of the initial client interview, where other factors such as the confidence of the client in the attorney and the indispensable chemistry between client and counsel has its beginnings.

If you have reason to believe that you are the target of a criminal investigation, you need to seek legal representation immediately, before you are charged by arrest or a criminal complaint.

Some people wait until they are facing the criminal complaint that has already been charged by the prosecutor.  It can be a costly mistake to wait for this stage.  In certain cases, this may result in the prosecution being avoided altogether if your attorney is able to convince the prosecutor that the case is too weak to bring to court.   In cases where the case never comes to court in the first place, the attorney’s representation may have begun even before you are arrested or charged with an offense.  Your attorney should begin a conversation with the prosecutor and law enforcement immediately, at the pre-charging stage of your case.  It cannot be overemphasized that early intervention by your attorney may be pivotal in the case not being charged at all.

If you have already been charged with a crime in the criminal courts, your attorney should bring years of courtroom experience to bear in handling your case.  Many attorneys, even a few who claim to be criminal defense counsel, fail to understand the importance of aggressive, competent representation at court.  A common example of this is the handling, or rather mishandling, of the Preliminary Examination in felony cases.  The “Prelim” is like a mini-trial, heard by a judge only, with no jury.  The prosecutor is required offer evidence justifying the case going forward to the trial court.  Some defense counsel fail to understand that this hearing is an opportunity to subpoena and cross-examine nearly every alleged victim and witness in the case.  If your defense attorney has not taken advantage of this opportunity, it is lost until the uncertainty of trial before a jury.  If the “Prelim” is properly handled by your defense attorney, the prosecutor’s case against you may be severely damaged to the point where it may be reduced to a misdemeanor by the judge, or even dismissed altogether.

The central point is that, if you are the target of a criminal investigation or have already been charged with a crime, you will need the best defense counsel you can afford to best help preserve the freedom that is now in jeopardy.