A lot of divorce attorneys lawyers get a bad rap when it comes to charging legal fees. No one wants to pay them and when pushed to pay, clients often times feel that they have no control over their fees. To some extent that is true, but clients can help manage the legal fees they incur.
Our Goal Is To Keep Your Legal Fees Down
Lawyers like to make money just like anyone else. Our law office has to pay the rent and pay its employees, just like any other business. But most family law lawyers I know do work hard to make fees reasonable. We want to help families and most of us in the area of family law have that same desire to help. We understand that you have problems, and we are here to help solve those problems. To provide the best service we can, we must balance working on your case to achieve your goals by trying to keep your costs as low as possible. To have a better idea as to how to control your legal fees, you need to know how we charge for our time.
Family Law Attorneys Bill by the Hour
We aren’t personal injury attorneys who get to collect a percentage of what you recover in your case. We bill by the hour. If you’ve agreed to pay a family law attorney $300.00 an hour, then when you see 1.0 on your bill, that means you will be charged $300.00. A half-hour (.5) is $150.00. The bills are calculated with “.1” equaling 6 minutes of time. That means .2 is the equivalent of 12 minutes.
This is a fairly easy concept to grasp, but people don’t seem to realize that when they call their divorce lawyer five times a day, that they are likely going to see five charges on their bill that month. At our firm, we don’t charge you for calling to ask which courtroom you are supposed to be in that day, but it’s important to understand that family lawyers bill by the hour. If you need to call and talk often, you will be charged for it. A better way to handle phone calls is to wait until the end of the day or the end of the week, and place one phone call to discuss all your questions instead of ten separate phone calls.
Simple Tips to Minimize your Legal Fees
1. Choose a Qualified Divorce Attorney
Do you use your pediatrician to operate on you when you have a brain injury? No. Then why do people employ lawyers who practice real estate law to do their divorce? I personally would never touch a real estate matter because there is a lot to know in that area of law, and I don’t know it. And you don’t want me “learning’ how to do it on your case. Pick someone who knows family law.
People must think that this area of law is not too difficult. After all, it is just deciding who gets the kids and dividing up the house, right? You’d be mistaken. This area of law encompasses pension distributions, property division (now I go to my real estate attorney), working with experts doing custody evaluations, etc.
CHOOSE A FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY FOR A FAMILY LAW CASE
You want someone who does family law. You don’t want to pay legal fees for someone to flounder around trying to get their bearings. At Anderson & Boback, we’ve been doing family law for more than 20 years. The divorce lawyers know us, and more importantly, the judges know us. We know what you can get away with and what you cannot. Don’t spend time and money seeking things from the court you can never get. An experienced, qualified domestic relations attorney will cost you less in the long run because we know how to get it done efficiently and done right.
2. Emails: Keep Your Communication Relevant
I often get a client who wants to forward two months of email or text messages between him and his spouse and wants me not to charge him for reading them. A family law attorney charges you for the time they spend on specific tasks, so if it takes an hour to read them all, then you would be charged an hour. Determine what is relevant and what is not. Sometimes the emails between the two of you swearing at each other aren’t relevant to your child support case, so think about what is relevant before you send them to your attorney.
Emailing is quick and efficient and a good communication tool. But the ease of email now costs more money, since people can send emails quickly and at any time. Keep that in mind when you email your attorney multiple times a day.
3. Utilize Legal Support, Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Support staff will still cost you money in billable hours, but their hourly rate is lower. Try and think of the legal support team available to you and use the appropriate person. Do you need to get the attorney on the phone to inquire about what time you need to be in court? Of if you should mail in your discovery documents or fax them in? Some questions can be answered by support staff. Non-legal questions may be something that a support staff person can handle, and that will save you money.
4. Do Things Timely
We understand that you have to go to work and you have an actual life, but you need to make time for your case. Your divorce lawyer needs you to answer questions, review pleadings that have been drafted and get the documents back to them. If you wait 2 or 3 days to respond, or you don’t respond at all, it makes your case drag on longer. The longer your case drags on, the more expensive it can get. If you don’t have it now, consider putting your documents on a system that will save them for you, something like Dropbox. We store our documents in Dropbox and can easily transmit documents to you, and you, in turn, can transmit them to us. You can save your tax returns in one folder, and your bank accounts in another. Your ability to get specifically requested documents to your attorney in a timely matter helps save time.
5. Stay Organized
Along with timeliness comes organization. Your domestic relations case is likely going to require you to turn over three years of bank records, tax returns, credit card statements, and other documents. If you can locate them (all three years), put them in order from oldest to newest, or newest to oldest. It doesn’t matter. But keep in mind, putting them all in a shopping bag and handing them to us is going to cost you since someone needs to organize them.
Review everything to make sure you have all the pages and all of the schedules on the tax returns. No one likes having to produce all of their financial records, but the sooner you do it, the faster the case will go. You have a duty to update discovery once you’ve provided it, so as you get new bank statements, put those aside since you will need to provide them in the future as your case proceeds.
6. Be Truthful
Lawyers and clients have a privilege — the attorney-client privilege. Your family law attorney cannot disclose what you say to them unless it is likely to lead to something illegal. There is no reason to lie to them. I oftentimes wonder if people lie because they feel guilty or ashamed, but now is not the time for those types of feelings. When I try a case, I need to know everything. As a former prosecutor, I can spin nearly any kind of fact, but it is hard to spin it if I don’t know it.
When my client takes the stand, I like to know that they have been over their testimony, that they were prepped on how to answer the hard questions that will be coming at them from the other side. There is no way to prepare, either the client or myself, if the other attorney knows more about the facts than I do. By not telling the truth, you’ve increased your litigation costs, since now I have to undo the bad thing that just happened to you. Additionally, your attorney won’t waste time on certain legal strategies if the facts do not support them.
I remember a case I had where we were seeking an increase in child support. Everyone had to prepare their financial affidavits and provide bank statements and paychecks. My client was getting financial support from her boyfriend and her ex-husband knew it. He had emails between the two of them fighting about it. But did I know that? No! My client didn’t think the information was relevant and didn’t tell me about it. Did we lose that case? Yes, we did. And I would never have brought the petition forward for hearing if I’d had that information. Waste!
7. Prepare Yourself
Presumably, this case is important to you. Try and spend some time on it and be prepared.
- Gather the documents your lawyer will need.
- Read what is sent to you.
- Prepare for meetings and phone calls so you’re not “lost in the fog”.
I learn a lot from my clients who’ve reviewed their spouse’s financial records. You know a lot about what your spouse does, even if you are not familiar with the specific bank accounts. Your knowledge, transmitted to your attorney, can save you money since it directs your lawyer in the right direction.
Going through a family law case will be taxing, emotionally and financially. But you can control how financially taxing it will be on you. Pick the right attorney. One that you respect, one you can work with, and one that will call you back! Be organized and timely. Work together with your attorney and your case will run more smoothly, which results in a lot less cost to you. Good luck!
THIS ARTICLE WAS PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED AT: https://illinoislawforyou.com/family-law/tips-keep-legal-fees-down/