How much does it cost to hire a DUI lawyer?
The range of prices to privately hire a DUI lawyer widely vary. As a quick answer, for first offenses misdemeanors, most lawyers keep their retainers between $2,500 to $5,000. If you live in the Bay Area, or other expensive areas, it's a safe bet to expect a minimum fee of $3,000.
If your case is a second or third offense within the past 10 years, your case becomes more complicated. Automatically, you'll face a far steeper punishment, which often necessitates more court appearances for the lawyer and typically a more challenging case to fight, so retainer fees often increase -- roughly, by a few thousand dollars.
If your case involved a car accident with serious injuries, or this was your fourth offense within 10 years, then your case will be filed as a felony. Most lawyers will start their fees for felonies at a minimum of $5,000 to $7,000, but many out there will immediately jump to $10,000 or more.
Are there additional fees or costs? What about jury trials?
When lawyers quote you their initial retainer fees, they generally are not including their fee to also go to trial. The vast majority of cases don't go to trial, so typically the quoted fee will cover you for the entirety of the case. But in the small percentage of cases that do go all the way to trial, lawyers charge additional fees and they need to be upfront with you from the beginning so that you're not caught off-guard. For example, some will charge a daily trial rate (e.g., $1,000 per day of trial). Some charge per hour while in trial (e.g., $200-$500/hr.). And, lastly, some charge a simple flat rate (e.g., $3,500). Trials are not one-day affairs; even a basic DUI case will typically take 3-5 days, sometimes longer. It's possible to wrap up in two days, but I wouldn't count on it. So, as you can see, the costs can quickly add up.
Personally, I charge clients a simple daily rate of $750 for jury trials, but I cap my trial fee at $3,000 max. That way, even if the trial lasted more than 4 days, my client would not have to worry about an astronomical bill later on. This is a better way, in my opinion, to not deter clients from taking their chances at trial based on a fear of an unknown future bill.
Lastly, it is important to bring up other potential costs. The most notable potential cost in DUI cases is whether your case would benefit from hiring a forensic toxicologist to testify as an expert witness. Hiring scientists for the day isn't cheap. Their fees can mirror your lawyer's retainer fee.
A good chunk of cases do not require retaining an expert witness. But, if you're going to trial or fighting your DMV administrative hearing regarding your driver's license, and having this witness could make a big difference, it's a worthy investment to give yourself the best chance at winning.
Most people do not have tons of expendable income to spare. Even if you do have the money, I nevertheless always try to avoid unnecessary expenses for my clients and keep everyone in the loop before taking on additional costs. The majority of my cases do not end up costing my clients more than my original retainer fee. And I don't nickle and dime for minor costs.
Before hiring any DUI lawyer, make sure he or she makes it crystal clear what the expected fees and costs will be.