George Zimmerman: The High Cost of a Legal Defense

2012 Trayvon Martin Case

2012 Trayvon Martin Case (Photo credit: werthmedia)

Most people have heard of the controversial nature of the George Zimmerman murder trial. Zimmerman, who defends his actions and is claiming self-defense, is on trial for murdering Trayvon Martin, a 17-year old with a social media profile that projects anything but innocence. While his defense attorneys claim that race had nothing to do with the murder, the prosecution thinks differently. In fact, a majority believe that Trayvon Martin would still be alive today if he hadn’t attacked Zimmerman. Regardless of your stance on the case, there is no denying the fact that Zimmerman’s trial is building strong emotions from both sides.

In an effort to get a not guilty verdict, Zimmerman has hired a top-rated legal defense team to argue his case. Trials are expensive and the average person may not be able to afford a team willing to take a case for the fame. If you are charged for a crime, you have to consider the cost for legal defense. Here is what you need to know about how much you can expect to spend on a legal defense team.

Fixed Prices Versus Variable Prices

Not everyone has a group of supporters raising money to pay for their legal defense. Just because Zimmerman has bad credit does not mean that he had to leave his legal defense up to a public defender in Sanford. If you do not have a Legal Defense Fund where people can donate money to your defense costs online, you will need to distinguish between fixed prices and variable prices for legal defense. During your consultation, the defense attorney should be able to quote you a fixed price based on the case details. Experienced attorneys do not charge on a pay as you go basis because they are confident their abilities. The actual fixed price of the attorney depends on the case, and can range anywhere between a $1000 and hundreds of thousands of dollars. O’Mara and West, who are defending Zimmerman, have quoted $1 million for their services in total. While they have not be paid completely by the Zimmerman Defense Fund, this is money that is due to them.

The Cost For Expert Witnesses

Zimmerman’s team introduced several expert witnesses including an animator, a medical examiner, and a self defense expert. All of these witnesses are paid to testify, and the cost is not always included in the initial quote. If your case is complex, there may be a need for an expert witness. When you are pricing the cost of defense, see if this is included. Assume that you will spend about 10% more than quoted so that you can cover all of the outside costs.

Zimmerman may have been unemployed and working as a volunteer neighborhood watch member, but he does have one of the most experienced legal defense teams working for him to get a not guilty verdict. You may not need a million dollars, but legal defense is not cheap. Keep in mind that you get what you pay for when legal defense is concerned.

Insurance

If you must use lethal force, you should be prepared to spend tens of thousands of dollars defending yourself.   It’s worth looking into self-defense insurance.   The USCCA is the only such company that offers up-front expenses and is willing to cover bail.
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How to Cut Costs on Legal Fees

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Occasionally, life goes truly pear-shaped and you’re forced to enter the legal system.

Even if you’re not embroiled in a tawdry, tabloid-fodder divorce, there are still legal issues that everyone needs to address, without exception.

The problem?  Or rather, one of many, if you’re having legal problems?

Lawyers are expensive.

Before I go any further:

  1. If you are having criminal court issues, get a lawyer.  Get the best possible lawyer.  Really.   The cost does not compare to a lifetime in jail, or even 10 years.    If you’re facing jail, get the best dang attorney you can find.
  2. I am not only not an attorney, but I’ve never even played one on TV.  I have driven past a law school a couple of times, but never stopped in.   I do know several attorney, carry the business cards of a couple and have a couple on my speed dial, just in case.  If any of them thought I was giving legal advice, I’d be in trouble.  To reiterate: I am not an attorney.  This is not legal advice.  
  3. Don’t do a prenuptual agreement at home.  A prenup will almost always be found unenforceable if both parties don’t have an attorney.

Where was I?   Ah, yes.  Lawyers are expensive, but there are ways to mitigate that.

First, if you are old, and a member of America’s oldest selling-the-contact-information-of-seniors-to-our-sponsors organization, AARP, you can take advantage of their Legal Services Network.  It comes with a free legal consultation, which can take care of a lot of issues by itself.  Beyond that, the LSN comes with pre-negotiated rates, like $80 for a simple will or $50 for a power of attorney.   Call 866.687.2277 or search AARPLSN.com for a list of participating attorneys.

There a couple of things you can handle yourself.

Small claims court, also known as conciliation court.   Typical cases in conciliation court include cases involving sums under $7500(varies by state) that involve  unpaid debts or wages, claims by tenants to get a security deposit, claims by landlords for property damage, or claims about possession or ownership of property.  Fees and procedures vary by state, but generally cost less than $100 to file.   The procedures for your state can be found by googling “small claims court” and the name of your state.

Small worker’s compensation cases can be handled yourself, if they don’t involve a demotion or termination related to the injury.

Apartment and car leases are usually simple and straightforward.  Read them carefully, but you probably won’t need a lawyer.

You can probably  handle your own estate planning and will writing with some decent software.   I love Quicken Willmaker.  It walked me through a detailed will that takes care of my kids, and gave me advice on financing their futures in the horrible event that I am tragically killed before my wonderousness can fully permeate the world.   It also contains forms for promissory notes, bills of sale, health care directives and more.  If you have extensive property, I’d still seek an attorney’s advice, but I’d bring the Willmaker will with me to save some time and money.

Purchase agreements.    A few years ago, I sold a truck to a friend and accepted payments.    I made a promissory note and payment schedule.   When he quit paying or calling me, that paperwork was enough to get the state to accept the repossession when I took the truck back.

A simple no-fault divorce is actually pretty painless, on the scale of divorce pain.    Again, the procedures vary heavily by state.

Other resources for finding legal information free or cheap include www.legalzoom.com and www.nolo.com.

Have you had to do any of your own legal work?  How did it work out?

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