One of the methods to control or minimize your attorneys fees is to look at the prospect of something less than full representation.
Different Types of Representation:
One of the more difficult questions a new client will inevitably ask is "how much is my case going to cost?". Although attorneys may be able to make some educated estimates as to a range of fees, it is like looking into a crystal ball to determine up front what a persons fees will be. Almost all family law firms charge on an hourly basis for the reason that the attorney often cannot determine at the onset of the case whether the case is going to settle early on, settle later in the case after extensive discovery and litigation, or proceed to trial.
At our firm, we provide several potential levels of assistance and representation. Our pay as you go services allows self represented parties to avoid paying a retainer fee, and to obtain our consultation services and assistance with regard to specific matters - i.e. such as the preparation of initial dissolution documents, final dissolution documents, joint pretrial statements, and advice regarding trial preparation and presentation.
The next step up is consultation representation. This is appropriate for persons who desire more contact with the attorney, but still wants to represent themself. We can essentially perform all services for the client with the exception of Court proceedings themselves. If it appears that a case should settle without the need for full representation, we generally recommend that the client retain our firm on a consultation basis for a much lower retainer fee (generally between $1500 and $2000). If it appears later that a settlement is not going to be reached, the client can always change to full representation.
The firm can also provide "Limited Scope Representation". This means that we are only hired to represent a client regarding a very specific matter while the client continues to represent themself regarding any remaining matters. One example would be a case where a person has ongoing parental conflict - we may limit our representation to merely filing a motion for the appointment of a parenting coordinator. A smaller retainer fee would be required for this type of representation, as opposed to full representation.
Full representation means that we represent that parties in all aspects of their case. This generally requires a higher retainer - anywhere from $3000 - $10,000 depending upon the complexities of the case. Any unsued portion of the retainer is returned to the client at the conclusion of the representation under all of our levels of representation.
How Do I Save $ on Attorneys Fees?
One of the things that I tell my clients to help them save attorneys fees is to try to use email instead of the phone to discuss issues with their attorney to the extent possible. A follow up phone conference may still be necessary, however, the use of email communications will still likely save the client fees. By sending an advance email regarding the issues the client wants to discuss with the attorney, the client has an opportunity to organize his and her thoughts in advance. At the same time, it provides the attorney with a heads up regarding the issues the client wants to discuss. If the attorney knows in advance what the client wants to discuss, the attorney can determine whether he or she needs to read the file before talking to the client, whether the attorney needs to read only the portions of the file, or whether a file review is necessary at all. Otherwise, the attorney may feel the need to read the entire file before talking to the client to make sure that he or she can answer any questions that may arise. In addition, through email communication, the client can ensure that all information has been presented to the attorney. It makes little economic sense to pay an attorney to frantically take notes as a client jumps from issue to issue in no apparent chronological order. Thus, if a client organizing his or her time-lines and relevant facts in advance, such will undoubtedly save substantial attorneys fees.
Although not all clients have all financial information regarding the community assets and debts, those that do can save fees by providing all such information to the attorney at the outset of the case. Thus, the attorney may determine that discovery to the other party is not necessary if the client already has all of the necessary information. Our firm provides a standard letter and forms to all of our clients in divorce cases to assist them with this process.
Divorce cases are often very emotional, and it can be difficult accepting advice when it is contrary to a person's instincts and emotions. That being said, the most significiant way to save attorneys fees is by carefully listening to the attorney's advice regarding likely outcomes at court, and following such advice as often as possible. This does not mean that you have to agree with your attorney at all times. However, a good attorney should provide advice regarding what battles should be fought, and what battles should not. There are times to settle, and times to go to Court. One should always keep the amount of attorneys fees in mind when proceeding through litigation. It makes no sense to pay $1000 in attorneys fees to argue over a $500 issue.