Legal matters—especially divorce—are devastating and intensely stressful. Beyond the emotional and physical exhaustion that accompanies preparing for litigation and heated legal disputes, is the financial pressure that accompanies court costs, filing fees, and billable hours. If it’s your first time needing an attorney, you might be surprised at how expensive legal costs can be. For instance, contentious custody battles or divorces where parties cannot come to an expedient division of assets could easily rack up bills worth tens of thousands of dollars in just a matter of months.
While you still may endure a little sticker shock, it’s important to keep in mind that lawyers are professionals whose time is valuable. Since human behavior is unpredictable, they can’t anticipate all costs either—there very well may be snags and hurdles in your journey. Some flexibility when it comes to legal costs is important for finding equitable resolutions to matters like divorce and child custody.
Following are some tips and tricks to keep your legal costs more reasonable.
Discuss Cost Concerns in Your Initial Consultation
Unless you’re independently wealthy, you likely have a budget in mind when it comes to your legal costs. Before contacting a lawyer for a divorce, we recommend determining rough estimates of what you can afford for retainer fees and monthly bills.
At your initial consultation, be sure to let your attorney and her staff know up front what your financial situation is like and a ballpark for what you’d like to spend. It’s important to convey factors such as other debts you need to pay, how much disposable income and savings you’re willing to put towards legal costs, and if it’s possible for you to temporarily scale back your normal expenses. Your attorney needs a rough idea of how flexible your financial situation can be and how much money you can allocate toward your case. This transparency can help you and your attorney decide when to fight issues and when to compromise so that your costs stay as reasonable as possible.
Limit Phone Calls/Emails
Placing excessive calls and/or emails to your attorney can quickly drain your retainer and run up your bill. Phone calls and emails are expensive because your attorney’s time is limited and a call means her schedule must be cleared from answering e-mails, reviewing court forms, and conferring with paralegals. Emailing or calling every time you have a question, which is likely often, can end in a large bill. For instance, if you email an attorney five times in a week, you are likely charged 0.1 for each interaction for a total of a half an hour of time.
An alternative strategy can be writing down all of your questions in one place and scheduling a phone call or writing a long email to the attorney. Every time your attorney takes a phone call or responds to an email, you are charged. If they respond to many questions during that email or question, it is more cost efficient for you. In the example above, if you saved those five questions for one phone call or email, it will likely take your attorney less than a half an hour to answer your questions.
Use Administrative Personnel to Your Advantage
The attorney(s) you deal with will be billing top dollar while paralegals and administrative assistants have much lower rates. When it comes to asking simple questions, defer to personnel who bill at lower rates and save the questions that require expertise for your lawyer.
Review Bills for Clerical Errors
Mistakes happen. Reviewing your legal bill can save you money. It helps if you can keep your own log of when you made calls and emails, court dates and how long they lasted, and any in-person meetings you had with your attorney or his/her staff. If you find potential errors, send an e-mail with details to help resolve your concerns as efficiently as possible.
Do Your Best to Compromise with the Opposing Party
Divorce is one of the most personal legal entanglements a person can endure. Afterall, the party you’re divorcing was once your most trusted companion. You’re likely to struggle with intense emotions including anger and betrayal during the divorce process.
Whenever possible, separating your emotions from your actions can help keep costs lower. Acting on emotional impulses when you could compromise could lead to costs that you might be unable to handle. The old adage “pick your battles” absolutely rings true in family law. The easiest, fastest, cheapest way to get through your divorce or custody/support battle is for you and your ex to come to an agreement.
Ask Our Team About Flat Fee Billing
Our team at Stanley-Wallace Law understands the financial pressures that can come with legal costs. To better serve our clients, we offer flat fee billing. This helps our litigants avoid the sticker shock associated with legal bills. Flat fee billing helps clients anticipate and prepare for their costs from the beginning. There are no surprises—aside from unavoidable expenses like court costs and filing fees.
We serve clients in and around Slidell, Louisiana. If you have questions about divorce or billing, give our family law practice a call at (985) 288-4621.