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How Much Does a DWI Lawyer Charge

If a prosecutor has charged you with driving while intoxicated, or DWI, you will need a lawyer. If you've never hired an attorney before, you might not know how much one costs. This article will explain how a DWI lawyer handles billing.

Several factors can impact your total legal bill, including:

  • The lawyer's billing method
  • The billing rate
  • The amount of additional legal expenses
  • How long it takes to resolve your case

A lawyer's billing method can have as much an influence on how much you'll pay as the billing rate the lawyer charges within that billing method. Most DWI attorneys will use one of two billing methods: an hourly fee or a flat fee. They function the way they sound.

With an hourly fee, also called an hourly rate, you pay the attorney by the hour for the actual time he or she works on your case. Obviously, the longer your case takes, the more you will pay.

A flat fee is one price for your lawyer's time, regardless of how long it takes to wrap up your case. However, your lawyer may have one fee if you agree to plead guilty or to a plea agreement, and another fee if you want to take your case to trial.

Rates for DWI attorneys can be competitive. But with pending charges, you do not have the luxury of time.

You can try to negotiate fees with an attorney who represents clients facing DWI charges (also known as operating while intoxicated, or OWI, or driving under the influence, or DUI). But any negotiation should take place before you hire a lawyer. Once you have hired a lawyer, it is too late to renegotiate the fees.

Beyond fees that pay for the lawyer's time, you'll also have to pay for related legal expenses. Such expenses may include:

  • An investigator's time
  • A paralegal's time
  • Photocopying
  • An expert witness's fees
  • Travel-related expenses

Depending on the state, you may also have to pay for additional fees if found guilty. For example, North Carolina has criminal court fees for everything from phone systems to time spent in jail.

Hiring a DWI Lawyer by the Hour

A DWI lawyer's rates are determined by considering:

  • The lawyer's experience with DWI and criminal defense cases
  • The cost of overhead to run the office or law firm
  • The going rate in the area
  • If you do hire a DWI lawyer who charges an hourly fee, you'll also probably pay a retainer fee. This fee acts as a down payment. You'll then likely receive monthly statements, which your attorney will expect you to pay promptly.

    Hourly attorneys who represent clients charged with DWI break the fee into smaller chunks. Some lawyers will divide the hour into 15-minute increments and some into 6-minute increments.

    What this means is that you could pay more in the long run if your attorney breaks the hour into 15-minute increments. Take the example of a 5-minute phone call. An attorney who charges $200 an hour in 15-minute increments will charge you $50 for the call. But an attorney who charges the same $200 an hour in 6-minute increments will only charge you $20 for the same 5-minute call.

    You should know that lawyers with a busy practice representing many clients charged with DUI may charge more an hour than a recent law school graduate. But because experienced lawyers may be more efficient with their time, they may save you money in the long run.

    Hiring a DWI Attorney for a Flat Fee

    Some DWI lawyers prefer to use a flat fee. This is because they can receive the money up front.

    If you want to hire a DWI lawyer who uses a flat fee, be absolutely clear what is included in the price. For example, court fees are usually not included. You don't want to be taken by surprise.

    Also, most DWI lawyers do not allow refunds. This means if you decide to switch attorneys in the middle of your DUI prosecution, you may not get your money back.

    Here are some questions to ask a prospective attorney who charges a flat fee:

    • How much is the fee if I agree to plead guilty or try to work out a plea agreement?
    • How much is the fee if I insist on going to court?
    • Is the fee refundable?
    • What items are included in the fee? What is not included?
    • What kind of payments do you accept? Can I use a credit card?
    • Do you offer payment plans?
    • Can I stretch out my payments past the point my case is resolved?

    The Cost of Hiring a DWI/DUI Lawyer

    You can see that you need to ask a lot of specific questions to fully understand how a DWI attorney charges for his or her time. Here are some questions that will help:

    • Do you charge a flat fee or hourly fee?
    • What is your rate?
    • What does the rate include? What will I have to pay for separately?
    • Can you give me an estimate for all the related legal expenses I will have to pay outside of the legal fee?
    • How and when do you expect payment?
    • Is there room for negotiation?

    The answers to these questions will tell you just how much it costs to hire a DWI lawyer.