Facts to consider while shopping for a low-cost attorney

— Erick Tyson von Mueller

“Time is money.” We have all heard this. We have also all heard “you get what you pay for.” In any profession, a good professional invests a lot time to provide a quality service and is compensated by charging high fees. Another professional, say a cheap professional, invests little time to provide a similar service.

The cheap professional can be compensated by low fees because there was a low investment of time. The key is that a low fee for service indicates a low investment of time. Of course there are exceptions. A high-performing professional can get a lot done in a little time and a bad professional gets little done and charges a lot.

As professionals, this applies to lawyers in general and your attorney in particular.

Not all attorneys are the same and not all attorneys charge the same price for their services. There are competent attorneys who do not charge high fees, who provide flexible payment plans, and/or can provide pro bono legal representation. It can be in your interest to shop around. While shopping for a lawyer based on price you should keep several questions in mind.

Finally, you should know that neither the State Bar of Nevada nor any agency of the State Bar has certified any lawyer as a specialist or as an expert. It is ultimately your responsibility to independently investigate an attorney’s credentials and ability.

Are you hiring your attorney through to the conclusion of your trial?

We should be thankful that we live in a civilization that demands the presentation of evidence in a tribunal before a trier of fact (for example, a judge), which process metes justice to the accused for the benefit of society and the victim. Such a system has the checks and balance we have come to rely upon for a fair trial.

The tradeoff is that the judicial process can be lengthy series of dates on which you or only your legal representative will be required to appear. You should know that there will be numerous appearance dates for your attorney to make if retained to do so. For example, a legal proceeding before the Las Vegas Municipal Court will have

  • an arraignment date;
  • several pre-trial dates;
  • a trial date; and then
  • a status check date.

A legal proceeding before the Las Vegas Justice Court will have

  • an arraignment date;
  • a trial date; and then
  • a status check date.

An appearance before the court will also be required if your attorney files a pre-trial motion. If the legal proceeding is for a felony or gross misdemeanor then there will also be a preliminary hearing date after your Arraignment.

“If something’s too good to be true, it probably is.” If a cheap attorney offers you a low fee, you should confirm that the fee covers your full legal proceeding and get a commitment to the fee in writing.

Is you attorney prepared to fight for you?

You should also have your cheap attorney explain what will happen on your arraignment date. The arraignment is your first court date. This is a key date to determine if your cheap attorney intends to provide effective assistance of counsel. In short, this is a test if your attorney will be serving his or her own interests, or yours.

What happens during arraignment?

The court will provide you or your attorney with the complaint showing your criminal charges. At this time you or your attorney will enter a plea of not guilty and a pre-trial, preliminary hearing or trial date will be set according to the requirements of the legal proceeding.

In general, discovery will be provided to you and your attorney on this date. The discovery is the evidence the prosecutor intends to use against you. Your discovery may hold valuable defenses or require further discovery requests to properly review and prepare your case. Sometimes, discovery will not be provided on your arraignment and/or the discovery may be incomplete.

Do I need to be at Arraignment?

You do not typically have to be at your arraignment date if you are out of custody. Unless there is a valid reason to be at arraignment, your attorney can appear on your behalf and plead not guilty, receive your discovery and get the next court date.

Why might my attorney want me at the arraignment if I do not need to be there?

It takes time to represent you, and a cheap attorney has only charged a low fee for that time. You may not be paying enough for the cheap attorney to appear more than once, at your arraignment, but you just don’t know that.

In short, a cheap attorney may want you at your arraignment in order to convince you to enter a guilty plea to limit the time that will need to be invested in representing you.

For example, going through your discovery, possibly requesting key pieces of evidence that may need to be requested from the prosecution, or filing one or more pre-trial motions. It takes time to go through the evidence against you and this is what you should be paying your attorney for.

A cheap attorney may prefer to conclude your legal proceeding as soon as possible to find time for a new client (and another low fee payment).

It shouldn’t be a surprise if a cheap attorney is trying to be cheap and do as little work as possible.

Should I get a second opinion?

Yes, you should get a second opinion. There are many attorneys who will give you a free consultation. Some offer payment plans and some may be able to offer pro bono legal representation. At the very least, you should consult with a non-cheap attorney to get a free second opinion, to avoid the possibility of cut corners jeopardizing your access to justice.

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Erick Tyson von Mueller profile image

Erick Tyson von Mueller

Erick is a researcher and life-long student of the arts. He graduated from university after studying intelligence and fell into the deep state. He has surfaced now and again to run a drive-through coffee shop (!), an award-winning live music venue in Austin, Texas (!), and a cement block factory in Uruguay (!), among other adventures in a life otherwise spent performing analysis. His speciality remains state security and the philosophy of the prison world.