If you are reading this article, you have likely been charged with your first DUI and have many questions about lawyers, legal fees, and your options moving forward. Or you might be a concerned parent, child, partner, or friend of someone who was recently charged with a DUI, and you are helping them navigate the process. Either way, you’re right to do your research.
Deciding whether to hire a lawyer, and which lawyer to hire, are critical decisions. This is an investment in your future. Think of it akin to deciding whether to go to University/Trade school, and which one to attend to give you the best chance of success in the future.
What you do next can critically impact:
- Your education prospects;
- Your employment opportunities;
- Your ability to travel;
- Your ability to volunteer in certain sectors; and
- Your ability to remain in Canada (if you are not a Canadian citizen)
Through this article, we hope to answer the questions our DUI lawyers are asked most frequently. However, if we have not addressed one of your questions, don’t hesitate to email or call us. We are here to help!
What Determines DUI Lawyer Costs/Fees?
DUI lawyer fees can vary significantly, and a number of factors contribute to that variability (some more than others).
The most critical factor affecting DUI lawyer fees and costs is the seniority, experience, and success rate of the DUI lawyer. Just like any other profession, the more experienced and successful the person is at their trade, the better the outcome is likely to be.
To put it another way, the more experienced and successful the lawyer, the more value that lawyer can add to your case. The idea of adding value is very important, particularly in the discussion surrounding the fee structure of DUI lawyers (and our DUI lawyers in particular).
The experience and success of the DUI lawyer also tends to be interconnected with how in-demand the lawyer is. Yes, the basic “supply and demand” principle applies even to DUI lawyers. Typically, as the value of the lawyer’s services increase, so does the demand for that lawyer’s services. Both factors then naturally drive up the cost of the lawyer.
Other factors that may contribute to DUI lawyer costs include the following:
- Number of DUI Lawyers in the City: some major metropolitan areas have many senior, experienced, and successful DUI lawyers. The more lawyers there are relative to the number of people being charged, the lower the prices will be for legal services because of competition among the lawyers.
- Location of the DUI: if your DUI is in a rural location, or in a town that doesn’t have many DUI lawyers, and you find yourself looking for an experienced lawyer from a different area, the legal fees will likely increase somewhat due to the travel requirements of the DUI lawyer.
- Access to resources and mentorship: Sometimes even a junior DUI lawyer’s fees may be significant (although far cheaper that that of senior lawyers) because of the support and access to resources the junior lawyer may have. For example, in our law offices, the junior and mid-level associates are mentored and supervised by the senior lawyers. Moreover, the work the juniors do on the senior lawyer’s files gives them significant experience and exposure to all the technicalities of DUI’s that junior lawyers working on their own would rarely have.
- Complexity of the DUI case: not all DUI cases are the same, and the more complex cases tend to cost more. Any time there is an accident, blood samples have been taken, a drug analysis is involved, or someone has been injured, the amount of work required to unearth all the technical defences and conduct a trial tends to increase. In fact, the trial itself may span several days and may require several pre-trial motions. All these factors can drive up the costs of the DUI lawyer.
- External Expenses: Beyond the fees charged by the DUI lawyer, there may be additional expenses required to properly defend the case. This is rare in DUI cases, because they almost always hinge on whether the police followed proper procedures and respected the driver’s rights, but it does happen. For example, the DUI lawyer may have to hire a doctor to testify in your case to show that you could not provide a proper breath sample because of a medical condition. This cost would be additional to the DUI lawyer’s legal fees, and may drive up the price of your defence.
Although fees can fluctuate significantly, depending on the various factors identified above, they should never be a mystery. If you already understand the value you are getting from hiring a certain lawyer, you are clearly in good hands. But most people, and likely yourself, are searching for and calling a lawyer for the first time. Don’t be afraid to ask the lawyer to justify the fees they are quoting. It’s not an insult; at least, not to our DUI lawyers. You might be surprised to find that the DUI lawyer is actually looking for the opportunity to explain to you why he/she is worth every penny. Indeed, we find our clients actually feel better about the decision they are making once they have the right information.
Fee Structures for DUI Lawyers
There are likely as many fee structures out there as there are DUI lawyers, but most can be grouped into three main categories:
- Contingency Billing;
- Hourly Billing; and
- Flat Rate (Flat Fee) Billings.
Our DUI Lawyers use only the Flat Rate Billing model, but we will go through the other ones to give you a better understanding of the options.
Contingency Lawyer Billing
The one thing DUI lawyers cannot do is contingency fee billing. Most (if not all) law societies in Canada expressly prohibit this way of billing. Our lawyers are asked about it quite often, so it’s important that we explain what it is, even though we can’t offer it.
Contingency billing is when the lawyer fees are dependent entirely on the outcome of the case. This is most common in civil lawsuits between people over money, including “personal injury” and “class action” lawsuits.
The way it works is that the client typically pays nothing to the lawyer for the lawyer’s services unless a certain outcome is achieved, or most often, until a large sum of money is recovered. Moreover, the lawyer carries all the costs of the litigation until the case is done. In return, the lawyer gets to keep a significant percentage of the recovered funds, which is often far greater than what they would have earned hourly.
Hourly Lawyer Billing
Hourly billing is the most traditional way of billing for legal services. It’s certainly how most people think about lawyer fees, and it is commonly used by corporate and family law firms. Many criminal lawyers and DUI lawyers who have switched over from (or still offer) corporate, civil, or family law services employ this billing model.
The billing method is relatively simple:
In an hourly billing model, every hour, indeed, every minute, is counted. You will be charged by the email, by the phone call, by the court appearance, including waiting time, and all those things add up.
There is one critical (possible) advantage of this billing model:
- If the case is resolved quickly with relatively minimal time spent on it by the lawyer, it may cost significantly less than in a Flat Fee billing arrangement.
The disadvantages of an hourly billing model for DUI charges are many:
- It’s difficult for clients to estimate at the outset of their case how much a DUI case may cost. A DUI case is stressful enough as it is. The uncertainty of how much money is required to bring the case to completion only compounds that stress;
- Clients can feel anxious about calling or emailing to receive updates on their case, or to provide important information to their lawyer; and
- Hourly billing creates an incentive for lawyers to be inefficient. There is more incentive for the lawyer to take more time with the case, than to be efficient or produce positive results.
Our DUI lawyers do not use this model. If you subscribe to an hourly billing model, be sure to review your contract closely to determine how the hours are calculated, and what minimum billing blocks are being used.
Flat Rate Lawyer Billing
Flat rate billing refers to a billing system based on pre-arranged total fees. This billing system is simple and easy to understand. There are no hidden costs or surprise bills at the end of the case. Everyone knows at the outset exactly what services are involved, and what those services will cost.
How can a DUI lawyer know in advance how much a DUI defence might cost? Simple: if the lawyer has a strong focus on DUI law, they will have defended hundreds, and possibly thousands, of DUI cases. With that much experience, the DUI lawyer should know exactly what is involved in defending such a case, and how much time, energy, and expense goes into a DUI defence.
Certainly, our DUI lawyers know this area well, and this is the billing model we implement in each and every DUI case.
Our DUI lawyers have found that there are many advantages to this billing model, including:
- Legal fees are easy to understand;
- Legal costs are all upfront, with no hidden fees or surprises, which creates transparency and trust with our clients; and
- Our clients tend to care more about the value a lawyer can add to their case, rather than how long it takes them, which a flat rate billing model is better suited to than hourly billing.
Our lawyers have further modified the Flat Rate Billing model by quoting not just the overall total fees a client can expect, but also flat fees for various portions of the overall service. Here is the template we follow:
Note that even the initial retainer represents an actual service our DUI lawyers provide. In all our DUI cases, the initial retainer goes toward a detailed investigation and review of your case. This way, the fee we charge at each stage is commensurate to the value we add to the case. Our clients always know what’s happening with their case and where their hard-earned dollars are going. And that’s the beauty of flat rate billing.
How Much Does a DUI Lawyer Cost
As we have discussed so far, DUI lawyer fees vary significantly depending on various factors. There are also many ways for DUI lawyers to structure their fees.
But what are the actual prices, you ask? While we can’t give you definitive rates because they truly do depend on the many factors discussed above, we can certainly provide a range, at least based on our experience and rates. Our network of DUI lawyers covers the whole gambit, with some on our team still in training through “articles” or having just started, and others who have been defending DUI cases for +30 years.
It’s probably best to break the ranges into three categories: top end, mid-level, and most cost-effective.
- The top end lawyers are those who have been running DUI defences for at least 10-15 years (although typically include lawyers who have been doing it much longer), who have a high success rate, and are in high demand. DUI lawyers in this category have likely defended thousands of cases and typically charge +$15,000 for a basic DUI case.
- Mid-level lawyers are those who have been defending DUI’s for 5-15 years. Lawyers in this category have defended hundreds, if not thousands of cases, and are comfortable with the legal issues and in the courtroom. They may, for all intents and purposes, have as well refined a skill set as any senior lawyer, but simply aren’t as in demand or don’t feel comfortable charging the rates of the top lawyers. DUI lawyers in this category typically charge $10,000 (+/- $2,500) for a basic DUI case.
- Junior (aka, most cost-effective) lawyer are those who have been defending DUI’s for up to 5 years. Provided they are part of a larger DUI law office, lawyers in this category have typically reviewed hundreds of DUI cases, whether their own or those of the senior lawyers in the firm. They should, by now, have a firm grasp of the legal issues and have conducted several dozens of their own trials. DUI lawyers in this category typically charge $3,000-$7,500 for a basic DUI case.
In most scenarios, the retainer (or initial investigation fee) is about one-third of the overall cost. So for a DUI lawyer in the $15,000 range, the retainer is typically $5,000. Conversely, for a DUI lawyer in the $10,000 range, the retainer is typically $3,500.
Please remember that the prices listed above are approximate guidelines based on our DUI lawyers’ experiences. We have, from time to time, heard of lawyers offering to defend DUI cases for far more, or far less. For those who charge significantly more, make sure you ask them about the value they are adding. For those who charge significantly less, be even more skeptical. Remember, you get what you pay for, so make sure you are receiving value for your hard-earned dollars.