I would think that for a criminal defendant, assuming that they have money, it would be in their interest to pay much more for a result of acquittal, than for a conviction. For example, imagine an attorney tells his client: "I charge $10,000 retainer to get started and if it goes to trial it will probably cost you $35,000." The client might then say, "Fine, I will pay that, but if I am acquitted or the prosecution drops the charges, I will pay you a bonus of $150,000". So, in that case the attorney has a strong incentive to get the client acquitted.

Are such deals illegal or considered "unethical"? I.e., could an attorney get in trouble for accepting such a deal?

  • As demonstrated by the answer, a definitive answer isn't possible without knowing which jurisdiction's laws are involved. The answer given does state the majority rule of U.S. law accurately.
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 13, 2017 at 22:19

1 Answer 1


This is analogous to a "contingent fee" where the lawyer only gets paid if they win the case. In at least some jurisdictions, yes, this is considered unethical and not allowed in criminal cases.

See for instance the American Bar Association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 1.5 (d) (2):

(d) A lawyer shall not enter into an arrangement for, charge, or collect: [...] (2) a contingent fee for representing a defendant in a criminal case.

At least some states have incorporated this rule verbatim into their own standards. See for instance the Texas Rules of Professional Conduct, rule 1.04(e).

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