For most clients, the number-one fear is how much their family law case will cost. When asked about price, attorneys have a tendency to reply with: “I’m not sure. It depends on (fill in the blank).” This vague response leaves clients with no way to gauge how much they will pay, and it also makes them feel they have very little control over their case and their bill. Many clients also become afraid to call or email their attorney, thinking they cannot possibly afford every phone call and email.
However, there are ways that clients can help to control the costs of their case:
Tip #1: Keep your communications short and sweet.
- Prior to any email, telephone call, or in-person meeting with your attorney, prioritize your list of questions – and group them by topic. This will eliminate the need for your attorney to decipher your questions and then respond, which cuts down on your costs and allows for a quicker response.
- Be strategic in your communication with your attorney and make sure you understand how you are billed.
— Be sure you understand how your attorney will charge you for emails and phone calls. Daily calls – or calls throughout the day – will cost you. Resist this urge.
— Short, organized communications received as digests on a weekly basis will reduce your costs. Obviously, this does not apply in an emergency situation.
— Utilize your attorney’s secretary for as many non-legal questions as possible, such as court dates, directions to the courthouse, drop-offs, misspellings, etc. Their time is non-billable.
Tip #2: Organize your documents.
Present your documents to your attorney in an organized manner – chronologically and by account, property type or subject, where applicable. You will save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in paralegal and attorney time. The more work you can do on the front end, the less your lawyer will charge you.
Respond promptly when your attorney requests documents from you. When a paralegal or attorney must follow up with a request for information from you, that will cost you.
Tip #3: Before asking your attorney to handle something for you, determine if it is something you could do for yourself.
- Example: Your spouse says that he/she has paid the household bills, but you do not believe him/her. You have two options:
— Option #1: Call your attorney to explain the situation (you are charged for this). Then, your attorney has to call the other attorney to bring up the issue (you are charged for this). Your spouse’s attorney has to call his client to discuss the problem (if you end up paying for some of your spouse’s fees, consider yourself charged for this, as well).
— Option #2: You call the mortgage company, the utility companies, etc.
- Which is the better option? You have to decide. Option #2 may end up taking an hour of your time, but it was free.
Tip #4: Don’t use your attorney as a therapist.
- If you are having a hard time with your emotions, find a therapist. Attorneys went to law school. They are not trained to be a psychologist, nor should they be attempting to act as one.
- Mental health professionals are trained in counseling people going through family crises and are usually a fraction of the cost of an attorney.
- If you do not know where to look, a good place to start is to request a referral from your attorney. Also, your company may offer an employee assistance program (EAP) to get you started with a few free sessions of counseling. Other options would be to ask your physician, check with your local churches, or call your local United Way resource help line.
Tip #5: Be open to compromise – and the goal of getting to the end.
- I am often asked after a trial, “Did you win?” In family law, there are no winners and no losers. Neither party will get 100% of what they are seeking. Most clients have a difficult time with the results of their case, believing that they will find justice at the courthouse. The reality is that if both parties walk away from a case feeling as though they did not get everything they asked for, that means the conclusion is most likely fair. It is all about how you get to the end.
- Decide on where you are and are not willing to compromise, and communicate this to your attorney. Identifying these issues will help to keep your fees down. You can spend a lot of money paying your attorney to fight every step of the way, or you can realize that at the end of the case, no matter how long and hard you fight, you will not get everything you want.
Family law is never a win-win situation, and it costs both sides in the end.