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Discussing Fees With Your Divorce Lawyer

As you talk with different lawyers about your case, its important that you fully understand the firm’s fee and billing policies. Specifically, you should address the following:

  • What is your fee structure? If the answer you receive is not clear and straight-forward, keep looking.
  • Will the people working on my case bill at different rates? If so, who determines how the work is allocated? A lawyer who uses paralegals or less experienced attorneys at a lower hourly rate can be a good sign. If the task to be performed can be done well at $175 per hour, you don’t want someone who bills at $350 per hour doing it. Your lawyer should manage the case to accomplish your goals efficiently.
  • How often will I be billed? You should look for an attorney who bills frequently. You want to know what work is being done and how much it is costing. We invoice at least once a month.
  • What about expenses? Beware of expenses! Your lawyer’s copy machine and postage meter should not be profit centers. We don’t bill for these things. They are part of our costs. We bill as expenses only those items we need to pay to a third-party such as the filing fee to the Court, a fee to a mediator, etc.
  • What is the firm’s Retainer policy? Retainers are funds that a client pays in anticipation of the work to be performed. It will be deposited into the client’s escrow account and paid out as work is performed. Unused retainers should always be subject to refund to the client. If a lawyer tells you a Retainer is non-refundable, keep looking.
  • Be aware of hourly rates…but don’t let that be your focus. Choosing a lawyer based upon the hourly rate alone can be dangerous. Lawyers set their rates based upon the their skill and experience. Skill and experience can make a lawyer charging $350 per hour more “cost effective” than one charging $175. In the end, nothing is likely to cost you more than a “cheap” lawyer.