At Peter & Lanzillo, we know your time is just as valuable as your hard earned money. So here are a few answers to some of the questions you may have.
What do you charge for a consultation?
Our office charges a very reasonable $100 for consultation on legal matters. This fee is then applied towards your retainer to our firm if we are hired as your attorneys of record. Thus if your quoted initial retainer is $2,000, you’ll only have to pay an additional $1,900 after the consultation fee for us to get started on your case. For criminal cases, this fee is applied towards the client’s flat fee as well.
How much is your initial retainer?
As is the answer for many things in the law, it depends on the case. Typically, this office requires an initial retainer of $1,500-$2,500 for a contested civil matter, depending on the issues and complexities involved. This number is of course just a starting point and often times the client will be required to deposit additional funds as the case progresses. For criminal matters, the flat fees involved depend on the number of charges and the level of offense, but often times we can get started on your criminal case for very little down payment.
What happens when the initial retainer on civil cases is depleted?
This office uses what’s called an Evergreen clause in our contracts. When the initial retainer drops down to a certain amount, for example $500, the client is required to deposit more funds into the account to cover the potential future costs related to the case.
What is your hourly rate?
Our office charges a rate of $300 per hour for our partners, Sminu Peter & Johnny Lanzillo. Our associate attorney rate is $225 per hour. However, many cases can be handled on a flat fee basis.
In what increments do you bill clients?
This office bills by the tenth-hour, meaning in 6 minute increments. This type of billing is standard in the industry.
Do you offer payment plans?
Yes, our office offers very convenient monthly payment plans on our criminal cases that often times require very little down payment. For civil cases, however, we usually need more of an initial retainer up front as these cases tend to be more time sensitive and involve more attention initially.
How do you hold on to my money?
The State of Texas requires every attorney to create an IOLTA bank account for client funds. This stands for “Interest On Lawyer’s Trust Account.” Interest earned on these accounts goes to the State to fund various legal aid programs. All money received from a client goes directly into the IOLTA account unless and until it is earned by the attorney. At that point, the funds are transferred to the lawyer’s business operating account. Money in this account is also used to pay for court costs, experts, and other court related costs. The attorney is not allowed to comingle funds from the two accounts. In this way the lawyer is accountable for each penny of the client’s funds.
How often will I get a billing statement?
This office sends out billing statements for ongoing contested matters once a month. You will receive a detailed billing statement that lists all work done on the case, the amount charged, any credits to the account, money left in the account (if any) and money owed to the account (if any).
What if I change my mind regarding your representation before the matter is concluded?
Unless the matter has been set at a non-refundable flat fee, any portion of the client’s retainer that is unearned will be returned to the client upon the client’s termination of the attorney-client relationship.
What kinds of cases qualify for a flat fee and how much?
Generally, any uncontested civil matter can be handled for a flat fee. Additionally, all criminal cases can be handled for a flat fee. As far as how much, again, it depends on the case.
What forms of payment do you take?
This office accepts cash, personal check, money order, and all major credit cards.
What is Discovery?
In a criminal case, Discovery consists of the written police report, narratives by the police officer, any written statements by witnesses, audio or video recordings, photos, and anything else that can be used against you in trial. All of this will be provided to us as your attorneys and we will have the opportunity to analyze all of it and determine our best course of action. In civil cases, Discovery consists of each party’s outline of their argument as to why they should win, answers to written questions posed on them, and certain documents or exhibits that each side intends to use at trial.
How often will I have to go to court?
On many criminal cases our attorneys will make all the appearances on your behalf, except for on Felony charges and for the final disposition court date on misdemeanors. For many of our clients this means you won’t have to miss work every single month to attend a court date unless and until we tell you that your appearance is necessary. As far as the number of court dates, that depends on the complexity of the case, how much Discovery is involved, and how backed up the court’s trial docket is. For Family Law cases, there is usually a “Temporary Orders” hearing within the first few weeks of a Divorce or Custody case being filed. After that, the next court date isn’t until the Final Trial (If Necessary). On Personal Injury cases, the majority of the time these cases are handled through negotiations and the courts are not involved. If a lawsuit is necessary, there will likely only be one or two court appearances before you get your day in court.
What can you do for me in my criminal case?
The first and most important thing we can do for you is be in your corner. Often times in criminal cases there is no one on your side. The State of Texas has vast resources and they can and will use those resources against you. We are the only ones standing in the way. The next thing we will do is give you an in-depth analysis of your case, access the strengths and weaknesses of your case, and inform you of any potential procedural or legal violations by the police or prosecution. We will then advise you of the potential courses of action, which may include Motions to Suppress evidence in your case, plea bargain negotiations, or trial. At trial, our goal is to raise doubt as to your guilt and we will fight to preserve the notion of innocence until proven guilty. That’s why we are the Defenders of the Defenseless.
Can you guarantee my case will be dismissed at trial or that I will be found Not-Guilty at Trial?
There is no way for any attorney to ever guarantee any particular result in any case, and any attorney that tells you so is lying to you. Our mission is to give every single case our expert legal attention and advise you of your best course of action. Often times we are able to secure dismissals and favorable results at trial, but every potential client is informed that we cannot guarantee particular results. Every case is different, and so is every client.
Will I get my bond back after my criminal case is over?
In a criminal case, the bond you post to get out of jail is meant to ensure your appearance in court to handle your charge(s). Once the case is resolved, whether the case is dismissed or you enter into a plea bargain agreement, the bond is discharged. If you paid a cash bond, you will get that money back when the case is disposed. If you used a Bail Bonds company, however, then you will not get anything back as you only paid a small percentage (usually 10%) of the total bond amount and the Bail Bond company posted the rest on your behalf.
The police officer didn’t read me my Miranda Rights when he arrested me, does that mean my case will be dismissed?
Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. An officer doesn’t need to read you the Miranda warnings until you are both in custody and being questioned by the police with the intention that your answers will be used against you at trial. Much of the distinction about when an officer needs to read Miranda comes down to a.) What type of encounter you are having with the police and b.) What type of information they are asking you. Please see our Blog on this topic entitled “Miranda Warnings: When are they required?”
The complaining witness wants to drop all charges against me in my criminal case. How do we go about that?
Keep in mind that in any criminal case, while the complaining witness (CW) may have been the one that initiated the charges by calling the police, the case is technically between the State of Texas and you. This means that the complaining witness doesn’t have all the power to just drop the charges and the State doesn’t have to do so just because the CW no longer wants the case to move forward. However, there are ways to convey to the State that the CW is no longer interested in prosecution through what’s called an “Affidavit of Non-Prosecution” or ANP. With an ANP on file, it is possible for our attorneys to work out dismissals with the District Attorney under certain circumstances and to avoid the risk of trial.
Family Law Cases
How do I prevent my Ex from seeing the kids?
First and foremost, keep in mind that in Texas “Joint Managing Conservatorship” (JMC) also known as Joint Custody, is presumed to be in the best interest of the child unless we can show the Judge that it’s not. That means that Judges will always defer to allowing both parents to have decision making powers to the child as well as standard visitation rights to the child unless there is evidence to show that should not be the case. Having said that, while JMC is presumed to be in the child’s best interest, that presumption can always be rebutted in court. Standard visitation can also be restricted and monitored (Supervised Visitation) if the facts show the need to do so. In any family law case, we will devise the best plan of action based on the facts available to fight for the maximum amount of custody you want.
How much is child support per month?
Under the Texas Child Support Guidelines, an obligor (person paying child support) typically has to pay to the obligee (person receiving child support) 20% of their net monthly income for one child, 25% of their net monthly income for two children, 30% for three children, 35% for four children, and up to 40% of their net monthly income for five or more children.
My Ex is no longer paying court ordered child support. What do I do?
An Enforcement of Child Support should be filed based on the previous child support order. A Judge can find the obligor in contempt for failing to pay previously court ordered child support, can jail the obligor for his/her failure to comply with the order, and can order him/her to pay your attorney’s fees for having to file the Enforcement action in the first place.
My Ex is no longer letting me see the children. What do I do?
Similarly, an Enforcement of Possession/Access should be filed based on the previous custody order. A Judge can find the parent who is denying visitation in contempt for violating the custody order, can jail that parent for his/her failure to comply with the order, and can order him/her to pay your attorney’s fees for having to file the Enforcement action.
Personal Injury Cases
I was involved in a car accident. Do I have to pay anything up front to retain your services?
No, if you are the victim of a car wreck you don’t have to pay anything out of pocket to retain our services. In fact, unless we collect from the other driver’s insurance company, you will never have to pay us anything out of your pocket. We take car accident cases on a true contingency basis which means we work hard for you and we don’t get paid unless you get paid.
Will you be able to get me treatment for my injuries?
Yes, we maintain relationships with various clinics that will accept “Letters of Protection” from our office. This means that you will get the treatment that you need to get back to your pre-injury state of health without worrying about involving your own insurance or payment plans. These bills are then paid out of the recovery we receive from the responsible party’s insurance company. In this way you can focus on getting better and let us worry about the bills.
Still have questions? Please contact us anytime. We look forward to hearing from you.