We’ll be the first to admit that legal services aren’t cheap, and it’s hard to understand why. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “A lawyer’s time and advice are his stock in trade.” Clients pay for their lawyer’s expertise and time. Lawyers spent some grueling years in law school learning the theories and policies behind the practice of law. Many of us make high monthly student loan payments well into our forties and even fifties. In addition, we are required, rightly so, to stay current in the law by attending continuing legal education seminars each year. Just like it isn’t cheap to hire a lawyer, it’s also not cheap to be one.
It may look easy, but it’s not. We often find that parties who try to represent themselves end up making more of a mess than they started with. That is not to say, however, that you can’t do perfectly fine representing yourself. Of course you can. But if you attempt your case pro se in an effort to save money, you could end up spending more on attorney’s fees when you hire a lawyer to help clean up after yourself. Do your homework before you endeavor to represent yourself. At the very least, invest in a consultation to see if any of your issues might present complications later.
WHAT WE CHARGE
Traditionally, lawyers charge by the hour. We charge our cases on an hourly basis. When you’re being charged an hourly rate and you know that even a three-minute phone could cost $25, you’re understandably looking for ways to control your costs.
Most people want to know: “Exactly how much is this going to cost me?” And we understand that’s important, especially since this stuff doesn’t come cheap. We’re going to do something unusual here, something most law firms don’t do. We’re going to try to at least give you an idea. This doesn’t work for all clients or all cases, but it’s a good start.
The consultation fee is $200, and we schedule about fifty minutes for that. Sometimes we run over, and that’s ok.
We will generally ask you to deposit $2,500 in order to engage our services; those funds are placed into our trust account and drawn on as they are earned. We will not consider you a client (and therefore not start work) until the initial deposit is made. And when the deposit runs out, we will ask you for another one. If you ignore us, we will ask the court to allow us to withdraw as your attorney. If you call us and ask to set up a payment plan, we usually will, assuming you are employed. We will generally not allow payments on the initial deposit.
Amy charges $250 per hour, with a minimum time charge of a tenth of an hour. Sometimes she’ll “no charge” something if it’s quick or procedural. But, for the most part, you’ll pay no less than $25 any time Amy must complete a task, even if it’s a 5-minute review and response to your email.
In family law cases, how much it will cost from beginning to end varies significantly. The variables include your behavior, your partner’s behavior, the lawyers’ behavior, and how many hearings we have. We might get multiple emails from you, or we might get none. It depends. But, on average, a divorce case will require between 15 and 25 hours. Some can run upwards of 40 or 50 hours, especially if custody is contested. And that usually does not include a full-blown trial, but it does include mediation, which is almost always required by the court.
CONTROLLING YOUR COSTS
Consider leaving a detailed voice mail or message with a staff member, making it clear you do not need a return call, if your goal for making contact is simply to notify your lawyer about something. Such calls are written up in a memo and made a part of your file.
Be diligent and thorough in returning documentation and providing additional information when requested. Provide that documentation and information to staff members, rather than your lawyer. Ask questions to clarify what that documentation and information needs to be to staff members as well.
Have reasonable expectations. Or, at the very least, understand that your lawyer has a lot of experience and knows what the court is or is not likely to do based on the particular facts in your case. Follow our advice, and accept our conclusions. Be aware that there is a difference between a fact and a fact I can prove. If I can’t prove it with independent, credible evidence, it’s probably not a fact I can use.
If you’re seeking a status update, ask the staff. They can often answer procedural questions or let you know where we are in the case. “Have you heard back from …” or “Has the court set the next hearing …” kinds of questions can be answered by staff without charging you. And, since we routinely forward absolutely everything we receive or send on your behalf in real time, if you haven’t heard anything very likely means nothing has happened. While that’s frustrating because you would like prompt results, the wheels of justice do turn relatively slowly and require patience.
If your question is more of a “what should I do” type of question, you’ll need to speak to your lawyer directly. Nonlawyers are expressly prohibited from giving legal advice.
Be on time, or even a little early.