If I get injured in a car wreck, my attorney only gets paid if he wins the case for me. Why can’t I pay my North Carolina criminal defense lawyer the same way, with a contingency fee?
You won’t find any attorney in the state who works that way. The ethical rules of the North Carolina State Bar forbid contingency fees for North Carolina criminal defense attorneys. There is a very narrow exception for criminal asset forfeiture cases.
Because a lawyer cannot practice his profession without the approval of the State Bar, we would have to follow this rule even if we disagreed with it.
In fact, we do agree with it. Contingency fees would be harmful to criminal cases.
Typically, for personal injury cases, an attorney will not charge the client any fee for his services at the start. However, when the case ends because the client accepts a settlement offer or a jury delivers an award for damages, the lawyer will collect a portion of the total amount. At the outset, both the client and the lawyer agree what that portion shall be. It’s usually set at 30 to 40 percent of the total recovery.
This is called a contingency fee because the amount the lawyer gets is contingent upon—or depends on—the amount of the settlement. If the case goes to the jury and the jury sides with the defendant, then the attorney gets nothing.
In contrast, billing for criminal defense attorneys is usually based both on a fixed fee schedule for some procedures and an hourly rate for other types of work. At your initial consultation with your North Carolina criminal defense lawyer, he should explain in detail his law firm’s billing procedures. The client is expected to pay in advance for the lawyer’s services.
We can’t be perfectly sure about what persuaded the state bar adopted this ethical rule. However, it’s not too hard to come up with some reasonable explanations for why contingency fees in North Carolina criminal law might be harmful to the client and to the justice system.
No North Carolina law firm takes its ethical obligations more seriously than our team. We are absolutely committed to seeking the best possible result for our clients. Call us today at 910-341-7570 or toll-free at 910-341-7570 if you are facing felony or misdemeanor charges, and let us explain how we can give you the effective and experienced legal representation you need.
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