How Much Does a DUI Lawyer Cost in CA?

How much does a good DUI lawyer cost in California?

A lot less than it costs to go to jail for a DUI! Beyond that truism, costs can depend on a number of different factors, but the general range for an average case is $1500-$20,000.
Keep in mind there are many different models for structuring DUI attorney’s fees. Different lawyers charge in different ways, which also applies to charges other than DUI. 
Here are all the different DUI attorney costs, billing methods, how they’re calculated, and what you’ll need to consider when evaluating the cost of a DUI attorney.

#1: Hourly Billing
When an attorney uses hourly billing, you are billed for their actual time. This is consistent with being billed for time and materials in the construction industry, or being billed for parts and labor for car repairs.
The average hourly cost of a DUI lawyer ranges from $150 per hour for a new lawyer to over $500 per hour for highly experienced lawyers. 
The average DUI case takes anywhere from 10 to 40 hours in total.  That makes your total cost anywhere from $1500 to $20,000 if paying by the hour.
A first offense DUI that resolves without a jury trial or motions to suppress evidence typically takes 10 hours or less.  That means you’re paying anywhere from $1500 to $5000. If evidence needs to be suppressed for your first offense DUI, it takes about 6 more hours to prepare those motions and present them to the court, which could add $900 to $3000.
If you need to go to trial then that could be 25 hours on the low end to 100 hours on the high end, which means on an hourly billing basis you might pay somewhere between $3750 to $50,000.  Believe it or not, jury trials are rare, as less than 10% of criminal cases ever go to a jury trial. 
Hourly billing has some pros and cons. It can be the most cost-effective billing method for people if the case has limited or no issues, simply because the case won’t take as much time. If major litigation is involved, or if blood and breath samples weren’t obtained lawfully, or if there is a jury trial, then hourly billing could be very expensive.

The Cohen Defense Group rarely uses hourly billing for DUI cases.  We only charge hourly if it’s unclear whether there will be a prosecution or if there is a legal question that is novel and we are hired to do research only. We don’t bill hourly if we think your case is going to go to court. Once we appear in court on your behalf, we become your attorney of record. If you don’t pay, we still have to appear because we’re still your attorney of record. This is one reason some lawyers take a large DUI retainer fee that they then bill against.
We generally don’t like hourly billing because we believe clients hire lawyers for advice. If you believe you’re going to get a bill every time you pick up the phone or send an email, then you’re more reluctant to get that advice. It puts a wedge in the relationship. You are caught trying to decide if the question is important enough to pay for the answer. That’s dangerous because you might not really have the expertise to know if it’s an important question or not. 
We want you to communicate with us, and we want you to feel like we’re there for you. 
#2: Contingency Fee Billing
This is common in civil personal injury cases. In these cases, the attorney advances all costs. Once the case is resolved or won at trial, they take a percentage of the recovery as a contingency fee.

Contingency fee billing is not permitted for criminal cases in California. No lawyer should be offering this for a DUI.
#3: Flat Fee Representation
This is one fee to handle your DUI all the way through a jury trial.
There’s a little bit of a risk of overpaying if your case is simple, but if it’s complex, you’ll be underpaying. You’ll also know exactly how much money you have to come up with at the outset. 
With the flat fee representation model, a first offense DUI lawyer in CA will typically charge $5,000 to $10,000. 
This is very costly, of course, and is not appropriate for most DUI cases. Most DUI cases are not unique. There are a certain number of court appearances and certain motions that apply to almost all DUI cases.  Additionally, as most cases resolve through pretrial litigation or settlement before trial, flat fee representation results in a lot of spending for services that won’t likely be rendered.
Flat fee representation also pits the client against the attorney because the attorney has a financial incentive to bring the case to a swift end because the faster the case moves, the higher the profit goes. And from the client’s perspective, the client might not recognize that the early offer is good even if it’s diversion or a reduced sentence because they haven’t seen the lawyer do anything and they have paid a lot of money for the lawyer to do something.
#4: Task-Based Billing
Task-based billing involves paying flat fees for the typical things that happen in every case. This is how the Cohen Defense Group bills for most cases because we feel that it’s the fairest and most effective way to do it.

General Representation Fees
With task-based billing, there is a fee for general representation that covers court appearances, communication with clients, review of government documents for your case, negotiating settlements, and making court appearances.
Fees Above and Beyond General Representation
We’ll review your case and give you the fee for general representation at our initial meeting with you. We will also provide cost ranges for situations that may or may not happen in your case, like jury trials, motions to suppress evidence, appellate work, and a DMV hearing. The simplest cases will not require any of these extras, so you’d only be paying the general representation fee in that situation.
These extras can range in price. For example, if it’s a 2-day trial with 3 witnesses, that is much cheaper than a 4-5 day trial that might include an accident reconstruction expert or a forensic toxicologist.
How much will the task-based billing fees be? You can expect the fees for general representation to be on the lower end of the cost range described in the hourly fees above.

How Much Does a First Offense DUI Cost with Task-Based Billing?

It is typical for a first offense DUI to cost between $2,000 to $4,000 using the task-based billing method. Where your case will fall in this range depends on whether there is a collision, blood or breath test, and whether there are a bunch of witnesses.  As each case is unique the DUI lawyer in the firm who you meet with will be able to evaluate the case to properly quote you a fee for representation. 

If you pay less than this, you are probably getting someone who is inexperienced, perhaps a recent law school graduate.

This is the method the Cohen Defense Group uses most of the time.

What Can Increase the Costs of a DUI Attorney?

If you have a prior criminal history or other DUIs that could increase costs. If you’re on probation, or parole, or have other charges that have to be addressed at the same time, then your legal costs will go up.
Collisions can increase time and money because there will be a collision report, and questions about who is at fault.
Injuries can turn a misdemeanor DUI into a felony DUI. A felony case is obviously more work. 
Some factors we won’t know until you meet with and hire us. For example, the best defense can be problems in the administration and analysis of a blood test or a breath test. This requires independent testing and witnesses, which is, of course, more expensive.  Often, these issues do not present themselves until we obtain the reports from law enforcement and evaluate the lab work done.
Motions are typically related to whether the arrest and collection of blood or breath are in violation of the California or federal constitution. These motions typically take half a day with witnesses that need to be cross-examined. There are briefs that need to be submitted beforehand. Where motions are concerned, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a first offense or not in this case, because it’s about law enforcement’s conduct. 
If we’re not able to reach a resolution that satisfies you then we’ll quote your trial fee based on our understanding of the case. This fee would be required before we set the trial date.

How Much Does a DUI Jury Trial Cost?

Sometimes we do an evergreen trial fee for a trial. In that approach, we estimate a minimum number of hours that the case will take and we’ll require a deposit for those minimum number of hours. As the client, you are required to replenish the trust account for more hours as the case goes on. For example, we might ask for a deposit to cover 20 hours, but know that it would be possible to take up to 40. If we exceed your 20 hour deposit, you would then need to deposit additional funds to cover the additional work.
Sometimes we charge a daily rate for trials. As an example, one of our lawyers charges $2,000 a day for a jury trial. Each day in court is about 14 hours total, including 6 to 7 hours in the courtroom. Every hour of trial requires two hours of prep!  So, the true cost is more like $4,000 if we added it up hourly.  Under the approach of a daily fee, our clients save considerable costs over the hourly approach.
On average, junior attorneys may cost $1,500 a day for trial, whereas a senior attorney may cost up to $3,000. A typical DUI trial lasts 2 to 3 days. Some can last as many as 5 days. That amount covers everything. Although some trials require expert witnesses, which do add to the cost.

What About Those Mailers Offering a Low Price for DUI Cases?

We see this a lot in big cities and even Sacramento. 

Some lawyers are just making court appearances without really fighting your case. They aren’t doing the real legal work that it will take to bring your case to its best possible outcome. They just enter plea forms for you. 
We see a lot of lawyers reaching out claiming they’ll take $750 for a first offense DUI, even if the case goes to trial. That lawyer cannot possibly be providing all the services necessary at that price! That likely means they’re not even looking at your case. Be careful.

What Are DUI Pre-Charge Representation Average Costs?

Did you know you can hire a lawyer before you’ve even been charged and that this may prevent you from being charged?
Let’s say you got arrested and the police took a blood sample. The sample won’t be tested for some time.
You still need to meet with a DUI attorney within 10 days of your arrest, otherwise, your license will be suspended by the DMV unless you demand a DMV hearing.
At the same time, our lawyers can look at the details of your case, see the reported BAC, and the time frame in which you were supposed to have consumed the alcohol. We can use that to estimate what the blood test result will be.
If the evidence doesn’t support what the BAC is expected to be, we can attempt to convince the DA not to prosecute. 
What if the BAC comes back above 0.08? When the DA is deciding whether to charge the case, if the DA knows the client has a good lawyer, they may decide to go after other fish to fry if it will be hard to get a conviction.
The pre-charging fee would be about $1,000 for a DUI. We typically apply the pre-charging fee towards the fee for general representation if we are unsuccessful at getting the DA to drop the case.

The Total Cost of a DUI Means You Can’t Afford to do Without an Excellent Lawyer! 

The cost of a DUI lawyer in California is high. While you might spend $1500-2000 on the low end, your costs could be up to $50,000.  And that’s just the attorney fees. What about the other costs?

If you are convicted of a DUI, you will spend three to five years on probation. You will pay close to $3000 in fines and penalty assessments. You will be required to pay for DUI school. Your driver’s license will be suspended for 6 months (ways keep your license after a DUI suspension). You will be required to install and pay for an ignition interlock device unless you choose to avoid driving altogether. In some cases, you will spend up to 6 months in jail. You will have to attend a victim impact panel.

Meanwhile, your car insurance rates will skyrocket. The arrest and conviction will go onto your record. You may lose the job you have due to jail time and court time. You may struggle to secure employment and housing in the future.

By the time all the lawyer’s fees, penalties, and other costs are added up and accounted for, the average DUI cost in CA is about $18,000. If you were in an occupation that required you to drive for a living then it might cost you more as you will be unlikely to get a job in your field and will have to train for a new occupation where your new criminal record won’t be as much of a problem.

Hunting for a DUI Attorney?

Most attorneys who do criminal defense will offer a free consultation.

Take your local lawyer up on it! You should know within ten to fifteen minutes of meeting them if they’re the right lawyer for you.

Give us a chance to earn your business. We work hard to help our clients bring their cases to the best possible outcomes. 

About David Cohen

David Cohen HeadshotDavid Cohen is a criminal defense attorney with over 25 years experience in the Placer County criminal justice system. He has handled thousands of cases, from misdemeanors to murders, but his focus is on DUI cases. He is a brilliant advocate for his clients, recognizing they have everything to lose, and fighting to put them in the best possible position going forward.

Posted in DUI