I would like to share some constructive fee-cutting suggestions for you to consider implementing after you have done your “due diligence” in selecting the right attorney for you and your issues. Many of the cases I have handled over the last 30 years are family law matters which are engagements typically based upon the number of hours spent in the representation. The amount of time to complete these cases varies based upon many factors, including the nature of the issues, contentiousness of the parties, and the cooperation level existing between both counsel. Recently, I have been asked by several clients what they can do to help reduce their attorney fees. Certainly, this is an excellent question especially with money being so tight and all of us having to deal with our poor economy. Each attorney would no doubt answer this question differently. So, be sure to ask your attorney about his or her own particular preferences. Here are some of my simple tips to reduce your attorney fees:
- Use email instead of the phone. Email communications are an excellent way to keep your attorney advised as to ongoing developments. But, realize that many attorneys receive hundreds of emails in a day. I welcome emails, but please try to keep them as brief as possible. Also, they work very well if you need a few short “yes” or “no” answers. I, for one, am not the best typist, and I don’t attempt to type long and involved responses. Utilizing emails can be a money saver for clients as the cost to communicate in this fashion usually takes less time than phone calls. Be reasonable and use good judgment. Don’t barrage your attorney with lots of separate emails, especially about relatively insignificant items; but rather, consolidate information or concerns in a quick-read format. A secondary benefit of email communications is having a copy of your email in the attorney’s file to be reviewed before Court.
- Besides emails and office conferences, don’t forget about the option of requesting a scheduled phone conference with your attorney. For updates or questions requiring a more in-depth discussion than appropriate for an email, planned phone conferences work very well. Typically, they are also shorter in length than office conferences.
- Try to be as organized as possible. Many documents need to be reviewed and produced to the other side in a divorce action. You can save hundreds of dollars by compiling the requested information yourself, financial or otherwise, in an organized fashion in labeled folders or notebooks. This cuts down on both attorney and paralegal time.
- Make an agenda of topics or questions in advance of your office or phone conference. This will help assure that it will be focused, comprehensive and as beneficial as possible. It also helps eliminate follow-up emails or calls about things you forgot to mention.
- I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to formulate realistic goals and expectations with your attorney early on in the representation. As difficult as it can be, set aside your emotions and develop a good strategy to attain your important legal objectives. Fighting over everything in a divorce case is typically foolhardy and can be both emotionally and financially draining. Do you really want to pay your lawyer to argue over inconsequential trivial issues?
- Respond to your attorney’s requests in a timely manner. This may seem obvious, but you won’t believe how often this can be a problem. Lawyers have deadlines they must honor and also want to be responsive to opposing counsel’s requests. If I ask for information or need documents, please respond and get them to me as soon as possible. You don’t want to pay me to ask you for those items more than once. Ideally, the lawyer and client need to work together smoothly as partners throughout the representation.
- No one really likes to make compromises in a divorce action, but it happens in almost every case. Recognize that negotiating a compromise is an inevitable reality in the process of concluding a divorce case. Again, as in #5 above, put aside your feelings and carefully consider your attorney’s sage advice and
- Establish a good rapport with your attorney’s assistant and/or paralegal. While neither are permitted to give legal advice, they are skilled in answering many procedural questions and can often help reduce a client’s stress level. Their hourly rate will be much lower than the attorney’s rate.
- While most attorneys are experienced in providing basic counseling advice, we are not substitutes for licensed family therapists and psychologists. Finding a good counselor or a support group can save you both emotional anguish and considerable attorney fees. In addition, in many cases, it helps your attorney to work collaboratively with the counselor in adopting a more holistic approach as the divorce case progresses.
- Be sure to see your family doctor if you are not able to sleep, are losing weight or becoming depressed. Priority number one has to be preserving your good health. Maintaining a strong emotional psyche will assist in facilitating communications with your lawyer and a likely bi-product will be to reduce your fees as well!
Adopting these tips will no doubt result in significantly reducing your overall attorney fees and at the same time, hopefully, improving the level of your attorney/client relationship. Discuss this subject openly with your attorney. He or she will likely add their own suggestions!
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Robert L. Mues
Robert Mues is the managing partner of Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues, and has received the highest rating from the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review for Ethical Standards and Legal Ability. Mr. Mues is also a founding member of the "International Academy of Attorneys for Divorce over 50" blog.