By Sophya Qureshi Raza
How much a family law case will cost is the number one fear of clients. When asked how much something will cost, family law attorneys have a tendency to reply with: “I’m not sure, it depends on… (fill in the blank).” This leaves clients with no way to gauge how much they are looking at paying with very little control over their case and their bill. Many clients also become afraid to call or email their attorney thinking they cannot possibly afford every phone call and email.
However, there are ways that clients can help to control the costs of their case:
Tip #1: Keep your communications short and sweet.
- Prior to any communication with your attorney, whether via email, telephone or in person, prioritize your list of questions – and group by topic. This will eliminate the need for your attorney to decipher your questions and then respond, which cuts down on your costs and allows for a quicker response.
- Resist the urge to email or call your attorney daily – or repeatedly throughout the day. As you would imagine, this constant communication will cost you.
- Be sure you understand how your attorney will charge you for emails and phone calls.
- Short, organized communications received as digests on a weekly basis will reduce your costs. Obviously, this does not apply in an emergency situation.
- Utilize your attorney’s secretary for as many non-legal questions as possible, such as court dates, directions to the courthouse, drop offs, misspellings, etc. Their time is non-billable.
Tip #2: Organize your documents.
- Hand your documents over to your attorney in an organized manner – chronologically and by account, property type or subject, where applicable. You will save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in paralegal and attorney time.
- Respond promptly when your attorney requests documents from you. When a paralegal or attorney must follow up with a request for information from you, that will cost you.
- The more work you can do, the less your lawyer will charge you.
Tip #3: Before requesting your attorney to handle something for you, determine if it is something you could do for yourself.
- Example: Your spouse says that they have paid the household bills but you do not believe him/her.
- You have two options:
- Option #1: Call your attorney to explain the situation (you are charged for this). Then your attorney has to call the other attorney to bring up the issue (you are charged for this). Your spouse’s attorney has to call his client to discuss the problem (if you end up paying for some of your spouse’s fees, consider yourself charged for this as well).
- Option #2: You call the mortgage company, the utility companies, etc.
- Which is the better option? You have to decide. Option #2 may end up taking an hour of your time, but it was free.
Tip #4: Don’t use your attorney as a therapist.
- If you are having a hard time with your emotions, find a therapist. Attorneys went to law school. They are not trained to be psychologists, nor should they be attempting to act as one.
- Mental health professionals are trained in the area of counseling people going through family crises and are usually a fraction of the cost of an attorney.
- If you do not know where to look, a good place to start is to request a referral from your attorney. Also, your company may offer an employee assistance program (EAP) to get you started with a few free sessions of counseling. Other options include asking your physician, checking with your local churches, or calling your local United Way resource help line.
Tip #5: Be open to compromise – and the goal of getting to the end.
- I am often asked after a trial, “Did you win?” In family law, there are no winners and no losers. Neither party will get 100% of what they are seeking. Most clients have a difficult time with the results of their case, believing that they will find justice at the courthouse. The reality is that if both parties walk away from a case feeling as though they did not get everything they asked for, that means the conclusion is most likely fair. It is all about how you get to the end.
- Decide on what you are and are not willing to compromise and communicate this to your attorney. Identifying these issues will help to keep your fees down. You can spend a lot of money paying your attorney to fight every step of the way. Or you can realize that at the end of the case, no matter how long and hard you fight, you will not get everything you want.
Family law is never a win-win situation, and it costs both sides in the end. However, costs can be kept down if you keep these tips in mind.
Posted by Attorney Sophya Qureshi Raza. Raza practices family law where she effectively guides clients through dissolution of marriage, modifications of prior judgments, and resolving child custody and paternity disputes. She also helps families with legal guardianships and conservatorships for the elderly and disabled.
03/16/12 3:04 PM
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