How Does a Federal Lawyer Decide How Much to Charge?

Posted by Ronald D. HeddingJan 09, 2023

I've been doing this for 30 years, and I can give you an idea of what goes into deciding how much a federal criminal defense attorney will charge you to handle your or your loved one's case.

The first thing I would mention is proximity.  How close is the attorney's central office to the court where the case is pending?  For example, my fees are much more reasonable for cases in the central district, and several federal courthouses are there. 

There's a couple in downtown Los Angeles, the Roybal building and then the main new courthouse on First Street. Then, there is another central district courthouse, the Santa Ana Courthouse, and one in Riverside.

So, in these courthouses in this neck of the woods for me, as a criminal defense attorney doing federal cases, I'm going to charge much more reasonable rates than, say, for example, if I've got to take a case in New York, which is a good distance from my office. 

Good federal defense attorneys can take cases nationwide because the Federal Sentencing Guidelines are the same everywhere in the United States.  So, the first thing that impacts price is proximity.

Federal Criminal Defense from Arrest to Sentence

For those new to the federal criminal system, I will give you a quick summary thumbnail sketch of how things work, from the arrest of a person to their eventual sentencing in a federal case.

Usually, what I see happening is someone is arrested in a particular jurisdiction. Then, depending on where the crime was committed, they are either taken to the local federal district in that jurisdiction or extradited to a different state where the crime occurred.  

Once they reach the courthouse, the marshals and the court staff are usually efficient at getting them into court the same day, generally in the afternoon calendar – at least here in the central district, that happens all the time. I travel all over the country, and they're pretty good at getting the person before the judge relatively quickly.

Before the person appears in front of the Judge, someone from the probation department will usually interview them and assess whether this person should be able to get bail in the case.  

So, you must hire an attorney right away because the attorney can help coordinate the probation department by talking to the client, talking to family members, seeing if somebody is willing to sign a signature bond to get the person out, seeing if any property might be available for a property bond.  That's all part of the person getting out of custody while the case is pending.  That is going to be addressed at the initial appearance.

Once the initial appearance occurs, many papers and documents will be signed.  If the person has been indicted, the indictment will be read to them.  If they haven't been indicted, then other things will occur.  A criminal complaint will be filed against them.  

The court will set the bail at that initial appearance, and then we'll select another court date.  A lot of times, they're going to put the post-indictment arrangement.  That's when the person will be entitled to a preliminary hearing, or they can waive it. They can also waive indictment if they choose to do so.

Eventually, if they get indicted, they will appear in front of the magistrate court at the second court appearance. At that court appearance, they are typically assigned their judge.  The judge will have specific rules, and there will usually be a status conference set a trial set, and then the case will proceed.  

If some deal is worked out, if the person goes to trial and is found guilty, a sentence hearing will be set.  Both parties will be entitled to file sentencing position papers.  The probation department will interview the person, and they will weigh in on what the sentence should be. But, ultimately, the sentence in a federal criminal case will be up to the judge.  Any time that the person is given will be served at 85%.  

Skill Level

Another thing regarding how much a lawyer will charge is their skill level. If you've got a new attorney handling federal cases for less than five years, you'll probably get a reasonable rate, but you're not going to have somebody with vast experience. I've been handling federal cases for decades, so I have a lot of experience.

So my fees are reasonable, but by the same token, the lawyers in the category that have been doing it this long are going to charge for their experience to handle a federal case, which is time-consuming and can be costly as far as appearances, motion work, dealing with the prosecutors and a host of other things that can happen depending on the type of case and what direction the case takes.

Another big thing I think will impact how much you're going to get charged is whether the case is going to go to trial or whether it's going to be a case that's going to be resolved by way of a plea agreement.  If it can be resolved through a plea agreement, you'll get a much better price than if the case is going to go to trial.

Number of Defendants

The next factor would be how many co-defendants are there in the case.  Are there multiple co-defendants, and you have numerous attorneys to deal with, or is it just a one-defendant case?

Suppose it's just a one-defendant case. In that case, you'll get a much better price because the attorney will have to deal with themselves and the prosecutor versus other attorneys who cost time and money regarding court and other things related to the case.

Initial Meeting with Defense Lawyer

So, that gives you an idea of costs. The best thing to do is meet with the attorney.  Talk to them about it.  Give them some information about the case.

Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers

When somebody calls me and gives me information about the case, I can usually give them a quote over the phone and give them an idea of what I would charge for handling the type of case they're talking about. 

That's what you know, and if it's something that's in the budget and you like the attorney and see they've got good reviews, they've got a lot of experience, and you feel comfortable after you talk to them, now you can go into the office and meet with them, and if you like them, you can retain them.

So, suppose you or a loved one needs a federal criminal defense attorney. In that case, I can offer a very reasonable price for my experience, having handled many federal cases over the years.  Pick up the phone now.  Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding.  The Hedding Law Firm is located in Los Angeles, CA.