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DUI Flat fee vs. hourly in Wisconsin Criminal defense

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There are different types of fee structures that different attorneys and practices may use.

Wisconsin Contingency fee agreements are the ones advertised all the time on television where  These are lawyers who are typically paid a certain fixed percentage, plus costs, out of a settlement or some other outcome. Contingency fee agreements are typically only found in the area of personal injury and are prohibited by Wisconsin Supreme Court rules in criminal and family cases.

Wisconsin Hourly fee agreements in criminal and OWI cases are when the client agrees to a certain hourly fee, often between $200-$500 per hour, and deposits an agreed-upon amount into the attorney’s bank account. The attorney then keeps track of time and expenses to invoice against that deposit usually on a monthly basis. If the deposit is exhausted while the representation is ongoing then the client will have to replenish the deposit for work to continue. Once representation has concluded, any unearned balance will be returned to the client.

Wisconsin Flat fee DUI attorneys and criminal defense lawyers are not involved with the calculation of time but instead based upon mutually agreed upon responsibilities for a fixed price. While all fees must be reasonable, this allows the criminal defense attorney and client to agree upon a list of responsibilities to complete for an upfront quoted amount. The advantage to the client is they know exactly what the costs are, unlike in an hourly fee agreement, before they say yes to the attorney. This means that if the criminal or OWI charges turn out to be more complicated or take significantly longer than originally anticipated, they do not need to worry about being billed extra.  Also, clients do not receive bills for contacting their criminal or drunk driving attorney with important questions, etc. Be careful because not all flat fees are created equal and some may be very good for the client while others may list pages upon pages of exceptions for extra billing.

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Flat fee vs hourly fee attorneys

People want to know what the costs are for something before they agree to it. It is why restaurants put prices on the menu before you order and car mechanics and home contractors give you an estimate before they start work. While every fee model carries some pros and cons, we have found over the many years of practice and thousands of clients that 99% of people prefer flat fees.

Additionally, there are benefits for attorneys when they have flat fee agreements. Attorneys are no longer concerned about keeping track of exact time for clients, recording timesheets, and all too often becoming boxed in by client budget concerns. It is not uncommon for hourly fee clients to actually complain about too much attorney communication, too thorough an answer, or too frequent an update, since it always means a higher client bill.

Under flat fee agreements, attorneys are often freed up to direct maximum resources toward achieving the best results and strongest client communication. Clients are not afraid to contact attorneys with questions, even small ones, because they are concerned about receiving the bill and attorneys are free to not worry about billing but getting results.

Exclusively criminal OWI attorney vs. General practice or whatever-walks-thru-the-door attorney

A massive variable between different attorneys and the fees that they charge clients is a simple one: generalist lawyer vs. exclusively operating while intoxicated and criminal defense attorney. Is the attorney someone who is a generalist, a jack of all trades (or perhaps a 3 of all trades) or is the attorney a dedicated and focused professional who exclusively focuses in a narrow area of law and who has spent their entire career defending people against criminal and drunk driving charges just like the one you are facing.

Do not be fooled by lawyers talking about how many years they have been practicing: it is not the years that matter but the mileage. An attorney who has handled ten drunk driving cases a year across thirty years of practice may very well be at a severe disadvantage compared to an attorney handling many times that number with perhaps far fewer years of practice.

Finding the best criminal OWI attorney who has handled the most criminal and drunk driving cases, like yours, should not be the only qualifier that you have for finding an attorney, but it is probably a really good indication that they should be in the running to become your attorney.

Aggressive evidence-based criminal OWI representation vs. fee-to-plea lawyer

What kind of defense representation are you trying to get? Are you just trying to get a DUI attorney who will hold your hand and enter a plea, without any real shot at ever getting any measurable results? Or are you looking for a top DUI criminal attorney and defense firm with a reputation for aggressive evidence-based defenses that win cases? The reality is that it takes a lot of training, practice and mentoring to become an aggressive and effective criminal OWI attorney. It takes nothing to be a lawyer who eyeballs a case and tells the client, “The officer said you failed the field sobriety tests and you blew over the legal limit: so there are no defenses.” That is more than judging a book by its cover: it is a reckless and poor representation of people who deserve a better defense. Lawyers who operate like that very often can miss very real defenses that a more seasoned and trained defense attorney can spot. Of course, this changes if you are under the legal drinking age where absolute sobriety is required to drive. 

Bottom line: an aggressive criminal DUI attorney may be able to get charges dropped where the fee-to-plea attorney may leave you with a criminal conviction to include jail time or worse.

However, no one can predict the future and not every case will have a rock-hard defense. If there are no defenses to your case, that is when you need the reputation of the aggressive firm working for you during negotiations. Does your jail time get cut in half?  Do the charges get negotiated down? Even without the charges being dropped, there are still numerous factors left on the table for an aggressive defense attorney to go after.

What does this all mean?

Great criminal defense and operating while intoxicated lawyers are not born, they are made. Great outcomes against these charges are not luck, they are hard-earned. You cannot choose your officers, your prosecutor, or the jurisdiction of where everything happened. But thankfully, you can control one of the single largest factors in your case: who represents you to maximize your chances for the greatest outcome.

The best defense attorneys will never be the cheapest ones. Be careful about anyone who is promising to be the best of all worlds. If you want the cheapest lawyer, be realistic about what outcomes may be possible. Also, remember hiring the most expensive attorney that you talk to does not automatically mean that they are the best. Finally, hiring the best attorney is no guarantee that your charges will get dropped. However, if you did find a superior attorney and criminal defense OWI law firm, then you can trust that you are maximizing your chances for the best outcome available under your unique circumstances and that is everything that you can do after an incident takes place.

Tom Grieve is a former prosecutor who now runs a successful Wisconsin criminal defense law firm with offices in Milwaukee, Waukesha, and Madison. If you are facing new charges, schedule a free initial phone consultation.

Give us a call to chat or schedule a free consultation about how Grieve Law may be the best fit for you.


In Wisconsin, how long does a second-offense OWI charge stay on your record?

Second-offense OWI in Wisconsin may result in up to a fine of $1,100 plus other consequences, and the charge usually remains on your record permanently

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