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Who Pays Criminal Defense Lawyers?

For anyone facing criminal charges in South Carolina, the service and skills of a Columbia criminal defense lawyer are indispensable. One obvious concern on the minds of all defendants is how much a lawyer’s services cost and who will be paying them. 


We compiled this guide on how criminal defense lawyers are paid so you can have a better understanding of the process and what to expect.

Different Types of Defense Attorneys

If you’re wondering how criminal defense lawyers earn a living, you should first understand the distinction between private and public defenders because they are paid differently. 


In short, public defenders are assigned and paid by the government, while private defenders are paid by the client who hires them.  

Public Defenders

If you get tangled up in a crime and cannot pay for your own legal representation, you are entitled to have an attorney appointed to you. In these cases, a public defender will become your legal defense in court. Public defenders are free of charge to the defendant, meaning you will not have to pay for their services. 


Public criminal defenders are paid with taxpayer funds. They are employed by the government on national, federal, state, and local levels through a public defender’s office. Lawyers who work for the defender’s office are government employees who are paid a monthly salary. 


Therefore, a public defender’s services are free for an accused who cannot afford to pay for their own legal representation. The salaries for public defenders are paid for through the taxes collected from the community where they work. 

Private Defenders

If your income is above a certain benchmark (which varies from state to state), you will not qualify for public defense services and must hire your own attorney.


If you want to hire a private criminal defense lawyer to represent you in court, you will have to pay them a predetermined legal fee for their services. This fee comes from your pocket and is not paid for by the government. 


In general, defense lawyers charge fees in one of two ways–hourly rates or fixed fees. If your lawyer charges an hourly rate, they will only bill you for the time they work on your case. For criminal defense lawyers, hourly billing is more common for complex cases like white-collar crimes and murder. 


Lawyers who bill by the hour will also require you to pay a retainer or a portion of their fees upfront. Your attorney will hold this retainer and periodically deduct their legal expenses from the account. When the retainer runs low, the lawyer will ask you to add more money to the account; this ensures that the attorney is paid for the legal work they perform. 


Fixed or flat fees are more commonly negotiated for simple cases such as traffic tickets or driving-while-intoxicated charges. In these cases, most lawyers will ask for the full fee to be paid upfront before taking on your case. Others may use a set of shifting flat fees depending on the case’s complexity. For instance, if your lawyer negotiates a plea early on, they’ll charge you a lower rate than if the case goes to trial.

Why Hire a Private Attorney?

Anyone facing criminal charges has the right to a lawyer. If you do not qualify for public defense services, seek private legal counsel immediately from Strom Law. With your freedom and rights at stake, every advantage you can get in your case is worth taking. 


While public defenders are generally qualified, experienced, and skilled, they are also responsible for an enormous caseload. Given the overwhelming number of cases they are assigned, it’s extremely difficult for them to give each case the attention it deserves. 


Private criminal lawyers take on only what they can handle and have the time and resources to commit. By hiring a private defense attorney, you’ll have greater access to quality legal counsel that can improve your chances of a favorable outcome. 

In Summary

Sometimes, you get what you pay for. Public defenders may be free and qualified, but they often don’t have the time or resources to give your case proper attention. Depending on the charges and circumstances, it may be best to hire your own defense attorney. Reach out to Strom Law today!

Wondering about good questions to ask a criminal defense lawyer or if you can sue a criminal defense attorney? Don’t miss our latest articles!



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