Few of us go through a divorce or custody battle without being concerned about the financial strain it will put on our budget. Planning for these costs can be difficult enough given the uncertainty in the process itself, but it is made even harder by the unfamiliarity of how legal fees work. Check out our article “Where Does Your Money Go?” to get a better understanding of hourly billing. Then, check out the tips below.
How can I help control the costs?
In order to keep costs low, it’s important to understand what you are charged for and the costs you are responsible for. These terms are generally laid out in your legal services agreement. General rule of thumb: everything is billable. Phone calls, emails, and messages sent to your attorney or their assistant are billable. Communications with opposing parties and their attorneys, witnesses, and experts are billable. Time spent drafting legal documents, letters, and preparing for trial is billable. Costs for filing fees, printing, and mailing are billable.
What are some tips to keep costs low?
While it is important that you stay in contact
with your attorney, here are some general tips that may help you be more
efficient with your dollars:
- Don’t email
your attorney with every little question. Keep a list. Then, when you have a
few questions send them to your attorney to address at once or bring them to
your next meeting. Of course, if something is time sensitive, you will need to
address it immediately with your attorney.
- Ask yourself
if something is really an emergency. While your attorney may be available
outside of regular business hours, they generally charge higher rates for
services during non-business hours. Sometimes emergencies do come up and your
attorney will need to be contacted.
- Keep notes.
You will discuss a lot of different things with your attorney and it can be
hard to remember it all. We do not expect you to! But it is helpful if you jot
down a few notes to help you jog your memory. This way you are not billed for
asking your attorney the same questions twice.
- Keep a copy
of your file. If you are providing documents or notes to your attorney, keep a
copy for yourself and bring it to your meetings. This way if your attorney
needs something or if you want to review something later it is readily
- Start a
checklist. If your attorney asks you to think about a course of action or
provide documents to them, put it on a checklist so you do not forget to get
back to them. This prevents you from being billed again for a remainder call or
- Work with an
attorney with a skilled and experienced paralegal to help you control costs
even further as their time is charged at a substantially lower rate than the
attorney. Paralegals may assist with initial drafting, administrative work, and
help with communications and questions.
- Work with an
attorney who focuses on family law. If you are working with an attorney who
does a little bit of everything or who does not focus on family law, then you
will end up paying more for their inexperience or unfamiliarity. Yes, they may
charge a lower rate, but it is not low enough to account for the differences in
preparation time, drafting time, and the quality of advice you will receive
(which translates into saved time, money, and headaches down the road).
If you have questions about what you are being billed for, review your legal services agreement and ask your attorney. It is important that you understand at the outset of your case what you will be charged for and how you can help curb those costs without affecting the outcome of your case or your attorney’s ability to represent you. If you need help in a divorce or child custody dispute, give our family law team a call at 605-702-4997. Let us advocate for you.