Flat Fees for Indigent Defense, Sometimes $80 Per Case, Draw Fire


A legal services firm in Nevada’s Washoe County is handling all indigent defense cases in one program six months for $80,000, as little as $80 per case, says Stateline.org. Such flat-fee contracting is used in more than a dozen states, a common way for counties and states to save money in hard fiscal times. They have drawn criticism from a variety of quarters. Nevada, Idaho, Michigan, and Pennsylvania have established special commissions to look at indigent defense in general and flat fees in particular.

“This type of contract creates a direct financial conflict of interest between the attorney and the client,” says David Carroll of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association. “Because the lawyer will be paid the same amount, no matter how much or how little he works on each case, it is in the lawyer's personal interest to devote as little time as possible to each appointed case.” Critics of flat-fee contracting include the American Bar Association. The chair of Nevada's commission, Associate Chief Supreme Court Justice Michael Cherry, says that as long as flat-fee contracting exists in Nevada, the state cannot have an equitable justice system.

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