While it is commonly understood that hiring a criminal lawyer is not a cheap proposition, it is very difficult for a person to comprehend what is a reasonable or realistic cost for the services of a criminal lawyer.
As is the case with other professionals, there are a number of factors that will impact the final cost of your legal bill. Understanding these factors is essential in helping you assess the costs you are quoted and decide how to invest your legal budget.
Factors that affect your cost
Shoplifting cases clearly cost less to defend than murder cases but case complexity can be a little more nuanced than that. Two impaired driving cases can also end up costing vastly different amounts where one is sorted out by way of a trial on a narrow and specific issue while the other may require multiple expert witnesses and numerous days of trial.
Our lawyers practice all across Southern Ontario and, on occasion, even outside the Province. Travel, mileage and disbursement costs can escalate for cases that take place outside of the broader GTA though we routinely cover courts with no additional fees in Newmarket, Oshawa, Brampton, Barrie, Collingwood, Milton, Orangeville, and beyond.
Mode of trial:
More serious indictable cases give an accused person the option of having a trial in the Ontario Court of Justice or a trial with or without a jury in the Superior Court of Justice. Superior Court trials, and in particular jury trials, take more time and therefore cost more money. These cases can also be preceded by a preliminary inquiry which adds to the fee total. Your BPS criminal lawyer will discuss the pros and cons of electing your mode of the trial including the important cost consequences that this choice entails.
The seniority of the lawyer you hire:
A great criminal trial lawyer is not a commodity that can be purchased like a widget on a shelf. Experience has value and therefore also brings with it a cost. Our partners charge higher block fees and hourly rates than our associates and students. The costs and benefits associated with hiring a more experienced lawyer will be presented to you at your initial client consultation so that you can make an informed decision and choose the lawyer who is right for you.
Block fees vs hourly rates
Lawyers typically set their fees in two different ways. Family and civil lawyers will commonly bill you by the hour setting a rate that is billed out in tenths of an hour (six-minute increments). Real Estate lawyers will commonly bill on a block fee basis providing a single price for all services involved in completing a specific transaction such as a residential home purchase.
Criminal lawyers more commonly tend towards block fees though some still bill by the hour. At BPS, our criminal lawyers are happy to work with you to negotiate the billing mechanism that works best for you. In most cases, we find that this involves a block fee arrangement in which you will be quoted a single price for the management and preparation of your case followed by some further potential block fees for milestones such as additional trial dates, bail hearings, or appeals. The block fee gives you a level of certainty and makes it much easier to budget for the costs of your case. It also tends to align your interests with the interests of your lawyer – you want a speedy positive resolution of your case and your lawyer is financially motivated to get you exactly that without driving up the cost by billing extra hours.
Block billing works best in cases whose timeline and milestone events are fairly predictable. If your case is a little more unusual and may not fit a routine process through the courts, an hourly rate is the simplest way to ensure that you only pay for the services you need.
What is a ‘retainer fee’?
Most lawyers will request a deposit up-front before they commence work on your case. This fee is commonly known as a “retainer”. In an hourly rate structure, it may cover an initial block of hours anticipated to be spent on your case whereas if your lawyer is billing you on a block-fee basis it will likely be calculated as a percentage of the anticipated total block fee.
Why don’t you do free consultations?
Are the best things in life free or do you get what you pay for?
Whatever the cliché, BPS partners do not typically provide free consultations even though this practice is fairly common amongst some other lawyers in the industry. In our experience, an offer of free consultations results in an overwhelming drain on the limited time of our senior lawyers who would prefer to be investing their energies in the defence of your case as a valued client. However, we know that no one wants to commit thousands of dollars to such an important decision without first meeting with the lawyer to whom they will entrust their freedom. As a result, BPS has developed an innovative and unique approach to charging for consultations.
Our lawyers charge a modest fee (usually $400 + HST) for initial client consultation. At this meeting, we will review whatever documentation you have, discuss your background and the unique facts of your case, and sketch out potential strategic defences for your case. This consult usually takes about one hour but may run longer with no additional charge. At the end of the meeting, you will be given the opportunity to ask any questions you may have. You can decide then-and-there to hire our lawyer or you can choose to take some more time to consider this important decision.
If you hire a BPS lawyer following the initial consultation, 100% of the fees paid for the consultation will be applied against your total legal fees for the case. So, if you choose to hire us, your consult ends up being essentially free. If you choose to go a different route, all you have paid for is a modest price to consult with a dedicated and experienced professional about your case.
Tips for Saving Money when you hire a criminal lawyer
When facing a criminal charge that could impact your career, family and even freedom, it can be daunting to try to ‘haggle’ or negotiate for the best possible fee. While the best lawyer for your case is not necessarily the lawyer who quoted you the highest fee, you should be cautious to make such an important decision solely by choosing the cheapest bidder.
Here are some tips to help you get the most value from your legal budget.
- Hire early: Many clients make the mistake of thinking they can save money by taking on the early court appearances themselves and only engaging a lawyer after several months once they have received disclosure and conducted their own crown pre-trial. This is almost always a bad idea. As BPS criminal lawyers most commonly bill on a block-fee basis, there are little, if any, savings to handling portions of your case yourself. Moreover, by engaging in court appearances or disclosure requests without the benefit of a lawyer, you may actually be doing your case more harm than good by creating delays which will be counted against you in court or obtaining crown settlement positions that are less optimal compared to what your lawyer could negotiate. For this reason, we encourage potential clients to meet with us at the earliest opportunity. The sooner our criminal lawyers can start working on your case, the better the end result is likely to be for you with little impact on your costs at the end of the day.
- Choosing your mode of trial: Because legal fees are always, at least in part, based on the time invested in your case, decisions that save time tend to also save money. This means that a decision to resolve your case more quickly by way of a negotiated plea often costs less than fighting a case at trial. Even if your case does require a trial, where the Criminal Code permits a choice, you can save considerable amounts of money by electing to have your trial in the Ontario Court of Justice or in the Superior Court of Justice but without a jury. Similarly, a decision to waive a preliminary inquiry can also reduce the time spent on your case and thus result in cost savings. However, it is important to have a clear understanding of the pros and cons of these critical strategic decisions. A BPS lawyer will always explain to you the risks and benefits of electing different routes to trial. Sometimes, the cheaper option is the still the best strategic option making it an easy decision. Other times, choosing to waive a preliminary inquiry or jury can jeopardize the success of your case. Our criminal lawyers will educate you on the pros and cons of electing your mode of the trial so that you are empowered to make a fully informed decision that balances the needs of your budget with the needs of your case.
- Understand Disbursements: Disbursements are any fees over and above the money attributed directly to your lawyer’s professional services. These can include relatively small costs such as photocopies, mileage, or parking receipts, but can also be very expensive when it is deemed necessary to hire other experts such as private investigators or medical professionals, to bolster your case. You should also discuss whether it will be necessary to order transcripts at trial or for appeals as these can be very expensive in cases of lengthy trials. BPS criminal lawyers do not charge for routine photocopying or mileage expenses for cases located within the GTA. We will always confer with you before engaging significant disbursements on experts and transcripts so that you understand both the costs and the benefits of any such expenditures.
- Payment Plans: Legal fees can be substantial, and few people can afford to pay 100% of an anticipated fee in advance. Most lawyers will be happy to negotiate reasonable payment plans that help to break down the larger fee into manageable components. These are typically paid monthly and covered by post-dated checks, regular payments, or pre-approved charges to your credit card which ensures that the total fee is paid in advance of the anticipated completion of your case. Ask any of our experienced criminal lawyers to arrange a reasonable payment plan for your case that can ensure you receive the quality representation you need at a price that you can manage over time.
- Explore payment options: Some employers will reimburse their employees in whole or in part for legal fees, in rare cases even covering costs for cases not associated with your employment. Check with your employer to see if your benefits plan includes ‘legal insurance’ – much like health insurance, these plans can cover some or all of your legal fees. If you are self-employed, speak to your accounting professional to see whether your case can reasonably be paid for by your corporation creating some tax advantages that reduce your cost at the end of the day.
The Costs of Hiring a SEXUAL ASSAULT Lawyer in Ontario
Sexual assault cases carry some unique considerations that can impact the cost of your case. The election of your mode of trial is particularly critical in sexual assault cases. Where the Crown proceeds by the more serious indictable route, you will have the choice of whether to have a trial in the Ontario Court of Justice (OCJ) or the Superior Court of Justice (SCJ). SCJ trials are more expensive than OCJ trials and are often preceded by a preliminary inquiry (though this option has been limited by recent amendments to the Criminal Code). The opportunity to cross-examine the complainant in a sexual assault case at discovery or preliminary inquiry can add costs to your legal bill but can also be of huge value to your eventual defence at the trial.
A strong defence to sexual assault cases often requires the bringing of critical pre-trial motions. These can include motions to obtain and introduce third party documents such as medical or psychiatric records or motions to permit cross-examination of a complainant on prior sexual history. The costs of these motions need to be balanced against their strategic importance in ensuring you have presented your best defence.
The Costs of Hiring a DOMESTIC ASSAULT Lawyer in Ontario
Domestic violence cases are often referred to as ‘he-said-she-said’ trials as often the only two people with relevant evidence, are the two couples themselves. While there is a temptation to assume that this makes for a short and simple trial, that is not always the case.
A robust defence of a domestic assault case often involves a careful and methodical review of evidence that may come from other family members including young children whose testimony needs to be obtained in a sensitive and cautious manner. Analysis of social media postings both before and after an incident can also make the difference in some cases.