Cost isn’t the only thing to consider when choosing a divorce lawyer. But it’s high on the list. Lawyers are expensive enough; you don’t need to overpay them. To limit legal fees, take the following into consideration when you are choosing your lawyer:
1. Local hourly rates. Find out from folks near you who have been divorced or are divorcing, how much their lawyers charge per hour and whether they felt the billing practices were fair. Also, call around to the offices of some local divorce lawyers and ask:
- What the hourly rates are for partners and associates.
- Whether any of the lawyers charge in minimum billing increments of more than 1/10 of an hour (6-minute minimums); if so, avoid them
- Whether unused portions of your initial retainer or subsequent retainers are refundable. (If not, go elsewhere.)
2. Location, location. There are two things to keep in mind regarding the location of a lawyer’s office:
- Lawyers in affluent communities may charge more than comparable lawyers located in more modest areas. That’s partly because their overhead is higher and partly because they know that their fancy addresses suggest a level of success entitling them to higher fees. There’s no need to pay a premium for a lawyer’s elegant digs.
- The distance between the lawyer’s office and the local courthouse will affect your bill because lawyers typically charge for travel time.
3.Impressions at your initial consultation. You know how some people just aren’t on your wavelength? Make sure your lawyer isn’t one of them. Miscommunication can cause extra work and thus extra legal fees. Not to mention lots of angst.
At your initial meeting, assess whether the lawyer answers your questions clearly and completely, especially questions requiring explanation in plain language of legal principles or procedures. Also, gauge whether the lawyer is fully attentive to you. Lawyers are generally at their touchy-feely best in initial meetings with clients, so lack of attention there may signal worse to come.
Also, you might want to tell the lawyer that you’d like to do some of the clerical tasks involved in your case, yourself. That would include organizing bank and credit card statements and other financial documents. See if the lawyer seems agreeable to that, so that you have the option of doing so in order to save on paralegal fees.
4.Reputation Among Other Divorce Professionals. One of the most important jobs of a lawyer is to persuade. You want your lawyer to be able to persuade opposing counsel during settlement negotiations, or to persuade a judge at trial. That requires that she be respected by other divorce lawyers and family judges. That does NOT mean that she has a reputation for being a “barracuda.” Lawyers who pride themselves on being difficult to deal with often prolong cases with their obstinacy. And anyone who has received a bill from a divorce attorney knows that extra time very definitely means extra cost.
Try to find out how other local lawyers feel about the lawyer you’re considering. If you can’t do that, see if you can get opinions from family therapists or other divorce professionals.