You’re probably reading this article because you want to know the cost of a lawyer for a speeding ticket or some other traffic violation that you’re currently contending with. Keep reading, and we’ll explain not only how much does a traffic ticket lawyer cost, but also explain what a traffic lawyer does, help you assess whether it’s worth hiring a traffic lawyer given your situation, and provide some tips for finding a skilled traffic lawyer.
What Does a Traffic Ticket Lawyer Do?
Practical Adult Insights describes a traffic lawyer as “an individual who specializes in traffic litigation, usually defending citations and other traffic violations for a client.” Some traffic lawyers “also prosecute or defend in civil cases relating to motor vehicles,” meaning cases in which “one party brings a lawsuit against another, usually as the result of a traffic accident.”
Traffic lawyers can help you avoid paying tickets or experiencing other legal consequences for all kinds of traffic violations, including but not limited to:
- Speeding (by far the most widespread and common among these types of violations)
- Driving without a license or other required documentation (e.g. registration, insurance)
- Reckless driving
- Running a red light
- Driving without a seatbelt, approved child restraint, or other necessary automobile safety device
How Much Does a Traffic Lawyer Cost
The cost of hiring a traffic ticket attorney varies, from as little as $50 to several thousand dollars. Note that these costs will be higher on average in California since the state has a higher cost of living than most others throughout the United States.
We’ll discuss the three cost ranges and explain what type of legal support you can receive at each tier:
1. Most affordable range: $50 to $150
When you’re paying these low costs, you can expect a traffic ticket lawyer to come to court as your representative for just a few minutes. This provides the benefit of allowing you to get out of attending court in person because the lawyer will be there in your place. In this price range, you won’t receive many other legal services beyond that.
2. Mid-range: $250 to $500
This is the general cost for moderate legal services for a traffic violation like a basic speeding ticket. When dealing with a relatively straightforward case, you can expect to pay attorneys in this range a flat fee, instead of a more unpredictable hourly rate. In addition, many lawyers operating at this cost tier will take work relating to issues like traffic citations through the mail such as a trial by written declaration.
3. Most expensive range: $850 to $5,000
Contesting speeding tickets and other more complicated legal efforts will cost you anywhere from $850 to $2,000. If your case actually goes to trial, this will cost you quite a bit more, even as much as $5,000 or more. At this most costly tier, you can expect lawyers to charge either hourly rates (starting at $100 and quickly climbing to $300 and beyond) or a flat fee based on the kind of work they plan to do. The latter is obviously more predictable, and may be preferable if you have the choice.
In addition, you can expect to pay a legal retainer in advance, described as follows by the experts at HG.org: “Retainer fees are down-payments on an attorney’s services. Having a retainer fee in place allows an attorney to feel confident that he or she will be paid for his or her legal services.”
How to Find a Good Traffic Ticket Lawyer
Our first piece of advice: avoid hiring a traffic ticket “clinic.” As tempting as their low prices may be, the fact is that their services are affordable simply because they don’t really do anything. Most will use a templated trial by written declaration which doesn’t require a lot of effort and hope that the officer does not respond.
If you hire a traffic ticket lawyer, you’ll want to select a lawyer who will actually go into court in person and fight for you. Naturally, these more hands-on and effective services take more time, effort, and skill on the part of the attorney, so the cost is significantly higher than those traffic ticket clinics you might have seen advertised online while searching for help with your ticket.
When Is It Worth Hiring a Traffic Ticket Lawyer?
You’ll need to balance a few considerations when deciding whether or not to hire a traffic ticket lawyer. However, as a general rule, it’s most often worth hiring a traffic ticket lawyer for misdemeanors (as well as anything worse than a misdemeanor, such as a felony). It’s less worthwhile to do so in order to fight simple traffic violations (e.g., minor infractions like speeding tickets).
Here are a few of the most common traffic misdemeanors in the state of California that would most likely necessitate the services of a traffic lawyer:
- Hit and run: A hit and run happens when you hit a car, someone else’s property, or–at worst–another person with your own car. This is considered a misdemeanor in California. You can be sent to jail for up to six months, paying thousands of dollars, and experiencing increased insurance premiums. If the collision injured anyone, a hit and run is considered much more serious and becomes a felony at that point.
- Getting in a speed contest (racing): Also referred to as an “exhibition of speed,” speed contests are not only a danger to yourself and other drivers on the road, but they’re also a significant violation. Punishments for racing other cars on the road include as many as 90 days of jail time, fines as high as $1000, and having your vehicle impounded for about 30 days.
- Reckless driving: This is another clear case of a misdemeanor, which again could force you to spend time in jail and pay thousands in fines and fees if the charge is not dismissed. Even worse, once you’ve received a reckless driving charge, it remains on your driving record for as long as a decade. It will also affect your insurance coverage, with your premiums increasing anywhere from 20 to 50 percent on average. Depending on the circumstances, your insurance company might even refuse to continue providing you with insurance coverage, and may terminate your policy.
- Driving with no license: This violation can be considered an infraction (less serious) or misdemeanor (more serious) depending on the specific situation and can be resolved if you bring the court clerk your driver’s license and pay a fine. However, if you are charged with a misdemeanor, you could be looking at a $1000 fine, time in county jail, and additional penalty costs.
- Driving with a suspended license: This is always a misdemeanor, and you might have to pay hundreds of dollars. However, the final cost to you will vary according to the reason your license was suspended in the first place.
Additional Reasons to Hire a Traffic Lawyer
The expertise of a traffic lawyer provides numerous benefits:
- They have an in-depth understanding of the ins and outs of traffic law in California, which no layperson could reasonably match even with a great deal of research. These laws can be extremely complex, so having a legal expert in your corner can be a major boon.
- Hiring a traffic attorney can save you a great deal of money. They can also save you time, especially if they’re able to go to court in your place, for example, or prevent you from having to attend a traffic school course by getting the ticket dismissed.
- They can not only get your ticket dismissed but also minimize the penalties and additional fees you have to pay, as well as negotiate alternatives on your behalf. Even if they fail to get the case dismissed entirely, a skilled legal negotiator can mean the difference between paying a thousand dollars and paying a few hundred dollars.
Why It Might Be Worth Just Paying the Ticket
You might be surprised to learn that there are quite a few situations where it might make more sense just to pay your ticket and/or go ahead with the required traffic school course, rather than going to the trouble of hiring a traffic lawyer. There are two of the main reasons why you might want to go through with paying the ticket:
1. It could save you a significant amount of money
In many cases, the cost of a traffic lawyer might be considerably higher than that of the traffic ticket you’re dealing with. You might not be willing to pay that extra cost to a lawyer just for the possibility of getting out of traffic school. (But hey, if your time is especially valuable to you, it might be worth it! It’s just a matter of weighing your priorities and current financial situation.)
2. Your lawyer might not end up winning your case
Even worse, consider as well that your lawyer might fail to win the case when fighting your traffic ticket. No lawyer can guarantee that their services will get your ticket dismissed. In fact, it’s not only unethical for an attorney to make these kinds of promises, it’s actually illegal.
If your traffic ticket isn’t dismissed, you will be forced to pay the fine associated with your ticket AND the lawyer’s often costly fees. You’ll also end up getting point(s) on your DMV record. These point(s) can raise your insurance premiums by potentially hundreds of dollars, turning your ticket into an even bigger financial headache.
Here’s a helpful example of this type of worst-case scenario: “For example, you have a speeding ticket in Los Angeles County with an approximate fine of $300. A speeding ticket can result in a 1 point penalty on your DMV record, which may increase your insurance premium by $600 per year for 3 years for a total of $1800.” All that adds up to lots of money down the drain!
3. Attending traffic school instead can prevent an increase in your insurance premiums
If you’re eligible to attend traffic school as part of the legal consequences for your traffic violation, this can mask the penalty point on your DMV record. This can prevent your insurance costs from being raised as described above, which will save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars in the long run.
If you do get ticketed and are eligible for traffic school, read our post on how to find the best traffic school and how much is traffic school in California.
Weigh Your Options Before Deciding to Hire a Traffic Lawyer
Now that we’ve answered your questions about the cost of a traffic lawyer and helped you understand why you may or may not want to hire a traffic lawyer, it’s time to weigh your options. You might even want to write out a good old-fashioned pros and cons list to help you think through the decision.
It can be a difficult choice with a lot of factors to consider–yes, a skilled traffic lawyer might get your case dismissed, saving you from paying exorbitant fees and even from serving jail time, but that lawyer’s fees could also run as much as $5,000 depending on the nature of your case and whether or not it ends up going to trial. It might cost you less in the long run to simply pay your ticket and, more informally, to pledge that you will be a more conscientious driver in the future.