What does it cost to hire a lawyer?  The cost of liberty is not as expensive as you may think.

Not surprisingly, people frequently avoid speaking to lawyers about their legal issues.  In criminal law there are a number of reasons this happens.  Some people feel that because they’re innocent they don’t need a lawyer.  Some people feel that lawyers don’t do anything anyway so what’s the point.  But for those who approach the situation more rationally and informed, the biggest factor in lawyer avoidance is the concern of expensive legal fees.

Value vs. Cost in legal fees

lawyer fees cost how muchThe concern is legitimate, but manageable.  No matter how one looks at the situation, legal fees are expensive for most individuals.

However, there are many other things that are expensive that people rush to spend money on, even if there is no real “need” to do so.  Flat-screen televisions, PS4s, cars, kitchen renovations, and even a nice dinner at a good restaurant.  They can all be described as “expensive” in the same way legal fees can be described as expensive.  But “expensive” doesn’t mean that there is not good value for the product you are purchasing.  The dinner you just spent $150.00 may have been the one of the best food experiences you have ever had and you can’t wait to do it again.  The better question then is what sort of value are you getting for your legal fees.

Needless to say, there is great value in staying out of jail and not having a criminal record.  A degree or certification from a reputable (and perhaps costly) education is worthless if you can’t get a job because of unfavourable police criminal background checks.   Therefore, most would agree that there is  great “value” in retaining a lawyer despite the expense.  This is particularly true if that lawyer delivers a result that preserves things in life that are much more valuable like life, liberty, or security of the person.

How much does it cost for a lawyer? Well, it depends on what you want to do.

Ok, so stop speaking like a lawyer and get to the point.  How much are lawyer’s fees you ask? Well, it depends. Of course it depends.  Every case has its uniqueness, varying degrees of simplicity or complexity.  Every case has its own degrees of work required to achieve the result sought by the client.  As a colleague of mine once said, “It’s like asking how much to go on vacation.  Where do you want to go?”

Take for example a factually simple drug possession case to understand the varying degrees of preparation deeding on what the client instructs you to litigate:

Police find 3 grams of cocaine on someone in Toronto on King St. W. during a wild night of partying in the Entertainment District.

As a lawyer we have to start looking at different factors in assessing how to approach a case like this.  So here then are just some question we would put back to the client or ask ourselves in this case before we can properly understand fees:

  1. How much evidence (or “disclosure“) do we have to review before we can advise our client?
  2. Is there a chance that we can convince the Crown to agree to a disposition that is acceptable to the client, or withdraw the charges outright?
  3. If there is a chance of resolution based upon our discussions with the Crown, what materials do we need to obtain, review, or prepare to reach that resolution agreement?
  4. Does the Court wish us to meet with a judge to discuss the case (at a judicial pre-trial)
  5. If there is any chance of resolution, or will the client instructs us to proceed to trial?  If so, what needs to be done to prepare for trial:
    1. How many relevant witnesses were present?
    2. Do we need to investigate the matter further and obtain our own evidence?
    3. Where is the scene and how long will it take to properly view it if deemed preferable?
    4. Is the client wishing to pursue a constitutional argument based upon illegal search, rights to counsel, illegal detention, unreasonable delay, excessive police violence, or others?
    5. Does the client wish to testify and be prepared accordingly?
    6. Is there video surveillance that needs to be watched? How long is it? Pictures, 9-1-1 calls, in-car police video?
  6. Does the client have a criminal record, and if so, how does that affect the complexity of the proceedings?
  7. Is the client in or out of custody, and if so, do they wish to have a bail hearing or appeal a detention order? Do we have to go visit them in the jail? How many times?
  8. If the client out of custody, do they wish to vary their present bail or undertaking?
  9. Is the Crown proceeding by indictment or summary conviction? 
  10. Does the person wish to engage additional procedural, such as a preliminary hearing, if available?

The ten points above is just a small number of factors that would go into any assessment a criminal defence lawyer might make when trying to evaluable the potential costs of a criminal case.  This is why it comes back to the answer “it depends”.

Flat/block legal Fees vs. Hourly legal fees

criminal lawyer feesAn easy way to address this uncertainty from the lawyer’s perspective is to have the client pay an hourly fee.  Hourly fees for lawyer range depending on experience and other basic tenets of economics.

Typically, lawyers’ hourly rates billed in a private (non-Legal Aid) rate would range between $75.00 to $750.00 an hour.

According to Canadian Lawyer,

In 2013, hourly rates nationally are $193 for one-year calls; $256 for five-year calls; $310 for 10-year calls; $364 for 20-year calls; and $375 for those called more than 20 years ago.

For the sake of reference, the hourly rate of Ontario Legal Aid rates can be found here (which are obviously substantially lower that proper private rates).

Notwithstanding, many lawyers (particularly those in criminal law) have moved to flat fees.  The Globe and Mail recently wrote about the trend towards this and the potential “the end of the billable hour“.  I doubt such a day will ever come but there is no doubt that clients have become much more conscious of how their money in trust is spent.

As the Globe and Mail article points out, there is a strong motivation from clients to have certainty in knowing how much a particular legal issue is going to cost.  In my experience, this is the overriding rationale for clients wishing to engage lawyers who offer a flat/block fee for services.  Such an arrangement also allows the client to make an evaluation not just on the cost, but on the value that much was said of above.  Even when dining at very expensive restaurants where little thought it putting into a cap of how much the night might cost (perhaps trying to impress a certain someone), customers will still want to evaluate the cost of something in relation to the value of the item.  People will probably spend $50.00 on a great steak, but would be reluctant to do so for a salad because the value of a salad does not typically justify such a price unless paying for a very unique experience.

So what does it cost already for a lawyer to defend someone on criminal charges?

Ok, so let’s cut to the chase already, what does it cost for a criminal lawyer?

According to Canadian Lawyer magazine the 2012 National averages are as follows:

Summary conviction trial (one day): $3598.00
Bail hearing: $960.00
Criminal trial (one day): $4175.00

Keep in mind that these are National averages; however, they seem about right.  In Toronto, I would think that a person would pay double the rates/fees quoted above for a criminal trial on average, and quite a bit more still if you wished to retain a highly qualified specialist.

Also keep in mind that the rates posted above are based upon a reader survey and not on actual averages.

I would think that in looking at the rates above, most would see that there is actually a very good value for legal fees in criminal law.  Considering that, on average, the cost of substantially increasing your chances of staying out of jail and remaining free of a criminal record (keeping your job, stigmatization, court orders prohibiting certain activity, probation and reporting, etc.) cost a third of what it costs for a child to play hockey in Toronto, it is money well spent.   The fees may be significant, but the value is high.

Better still, most criminal lawyers, and even highly qualified specialists, will meet clients in the first instance at no charge so they can explain to them, among other things, the cost of retaining their services.  So really, there is no downside in speaking to a lawyer, if only to see if you can afford their protection.

Can you also find our own fees and rates posted here.

If you wish to speak to any of our lawyers to get more information about this article, or about criminal charges you may be facing you can call us at (416) 999-8389.  There is no charge for our initial consultations.