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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.
In family law cases, most attorneys charge hourly for their services. The rate they charge varies based on a number of factors: complexity of the case, urgency, experience, timeframe, skill, etc. It is often hard to understand the value behind the fees you incur as you are paying for an attorney’s time, knowledge, skills, and advocacy. Not as simple as going to the store and buying a gallon of milk. Further, some costs are beyond the attorney’s control such as actions taken by the opposing party or mandatory court costs for filing your action. While the attorney may be able to give you an estimate of total fees, this estimate can change dramatically as your case and needs change.
Under most legal service agreements, you are billed for every tenth of an hour that the attorney or paralegal works on your file. This is why you may see a .1 or .4 on your bill. Check out the chart below to see how your “.1s” translate into real dollars and cents.
|Minutes of Work||Time increment||@ $225 Hourly Rate (Attorney)||@ $125 Hourly Rate (Paralegal)|
You will receive a copy of all of your bills so you can see the breakdown of what you are being billed for and who is completing the work. We send our bills out to our clients on a monthly basis through email. That way you can easily click to pay your bill online if you have an outstanding amount due and you do not need to get a check or worry about finding a stamp. Other law firms may send out quarterly bills or send them through snail mail.
Your retainer is the fee you pay to your attorney up front to work on your matter. The funds placed in the retainer account are only transferred to the attorney or law firm as payment on a bill. Think of it like an “escrow account”. The retainer allows your attorney to work on your matter and bill against your account. Once your account is depleted, then your attorney may ask you to “refill” your retainer account to continue working on your case. If you case ends and you have an amount remaining in your retainer account, then that remaining amount is returned to you.
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. General rule of thumb: everything is billable. Calls, emails, meetings, drafting documents, trial preparation, talking with witnesses, printing, postage, and court costs are all billable.
To learn some tips and tricks on curbing costs in a divorce or custody dispute, check out our blog on How to Control Costs. If you are going through a divorce or custody matter, give us a call at 605-777-1772. We understand that both your case and your money is important.
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