One of the many unpleasant aspects of a divorce is the attorney’s fees. Many people spend more on their divorce than they did for their wedding. The secret is that you have more control to manage the attorney’s fees than you realize. Here are the top 10 ways to keep your attorney’s fees under control.
- ENTER A RETAINER AGREEMENT WITH YOUR FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY.
Do not retain an attorney who does not use a retainer agreement. Make sure the retainer agreement sets forth the hourly rate for everyone at the law firm who may work on your case. Review the retainer agreement carefully and ask questions about anything you do not understand.
- ASK YOUR FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY FOR HIS MINIMUM BILLING CHARGE.
Attorneys bill in six-minute increments, 12-minute increments, or even 15-minute increments. In other words, if you call your attorney with a quick question and talk to her for three minutes, you will be billed a minimum that will exceed the actual time you spoke to your attorney. Make sure that the minimum increment is disclosed either in the retainer agreement (best practice) or during the initial consultation before you sign the retainer agreement. There are excellent Family Law attorneys in Atlanta who still bill in six-minute increments.
- A THERAPIST MAY BE CHEAPER.
You may be tempted to call your attorney just to complain about a situation that really has no impact on the legal process of obtaining a divorce. If you want to complain about what a louse your soon to be ex is, you will probably be better off, both financially and emotionally, by having a good therapist you can speak to about whatever is bothering you. The first bill you receive from your family law attorney may produce sticker shock when you see that it cost you $500.00 to rant about your spouse being a control freak.
- INSIST UPON RECEIVING A STATEMENT FOR SERVICES RENDERED EACH MONTH.
If the retainer agreement you signed does not set forth the attorney’s procedure for billing, ask about it. If three months have gone by since you hired your attorney and you have never received a bill, you need to demand a bill immediately. An attorney’s failure to send you a bill each month could be an indication of someone who does not keep time entries simultaneously with the service performed, meaning that he may be going back in time to recreate the time spent on your matter. That method rarely produces an accurate accounting. At the very least, it is an indication that there are back-office issues that could be a sign of inefficiency or poor management. If you have never received a bill and your attorney demands an additional retainer, that is the time to find a new attorney. You have the right to receive a monthly accounting of what your attorney did on your behalf and how much time was spent on each task. We have heard horror stories about a client discovering at the end of a case that $10,000.00 or more is due even though the client never received a statement for services rendered.
- REVIEW YOUR BILL CAREFULLY.
Attorneys are human and can miss errors on the billing statement. A retainer agreement will often require you to question charges on the bill, in writing, within a certain amount of time. If you do not question the charges, you may be stuck with them, even if the charges are in error. Do not be shy if you find an error or do not understand anything about the billing statement. Call your attorney and ask questions. Ask your attorney during the initial consultation whether the attorney bills for billing questions. We think if we make a mistake, you should not pay for us to fix it.
- LET YOUR ATTORNEY KNOW IF YOU HAVE A BUDGET FOR ATTORNEY’S FEES.
If you let your attorney know that you do not want to spend more than a certain amount of money, your attorney should be able to help you plan what can be achieved within your budget. You will need to be realistic about both your goals and your budget, but your attorney can help you get the most bang for your buck. For example, not every case needs to conduct depositions, which are very expensive. Ask your attorney about the pros and cons of the strategies suggested to resolve your case, and how much each strategy will cost. It is not always possible to stay within the budget, but at least let your attorney be aware of the budget. You can also ask about unbundled services. If you retain an attorney for unbundled services, the attorney will not become your attorney of record and will do certain specified limited tasks for a smaller amount or fixed fee.
- THE MORE YOU FIGHT, THE MORE IT COSTS.
It does not make sense to spend $525 (or even $200) an hour fighting over who gets to keep the washer and dryer. It would be less expensive and more productive to simply buy a new washer and dryer rather than paying your attorney to fight over the ones you have. Similarly, the “principal” can be very expensive. You may be hurt and reeling over the pain of the divorce and whatever conduct may have lead up to the divorce, but wanting to get a pound of flesh will simply take money out of your pocket and put it in your attorney’s pocket. It would be better to keep the children’s college fund intact than to give the children’s college fund to your attorney in an effort to gain what feels important at the time, but which you will regret when the anger and hurt subside.
- GOING TO COURT COSTS A LOT OF MONEY.
Make every effort to resolve all of the issues without the court’s intervention. By the time the attorney has prepared for court and spent a day, or more, at the courthouse, you will have spent a lot of money. Make sure whatever you are trying to achieve is worth it. There are numerous alternatives to letting the judge decide the outcome of your divorce, all of which will give you more control and a better outcome. Make sure you discuss and explore all alternatives before rushing to the courthouse.
- LISTEN TO AND FOLLOW YOUR ATTORNEY’S ADVICE.
You hired an attorney to help you navigate an emotional situation that is governed by rules and laws and expectations about your conduct. You chose your attorney for her experience to get you through what may be one of the most difficult times of your life. Rely on that experience. You ignore your attorney’s advice at your peril. Even if your attorney can fix your misstep, it will cost more to do so than it will to conduct yourself with dignity throughout the course of your divorce proceeding. Your attorney knows more than your family members or your neighbors, so make sure you are taking the advice of the one you are paying to give you advice. Taking the high road does not feel fair, but it will get you a much better outcome because the court will look upon such behavior favorably.
- YOU ARE IN CONTROL.
Reality check your goals with your attorney on a regular basis. If you have realistic expectations about the outcome, you can help control the costs. If you have unrealistic expectations, you may incur substantial attorney’s fees without having much hope of achieving those goals.