How much is this going to cost me: why attorney fees for divorce and family law cases are so hard to predict: Part III – Keeping attorney fees down

We’ve spent some time in the last couple days, talking about how it’s nearly impossible to predict total attorney fees/costs in a family law or divorce case. But you may be wondering if it’s just hopeless or if there’s at least a way to keep them as reasonable as possible. There is! Hope! Now, it may take some effort on your part, but if you want to save on attorney fees, then here’s a few ways to do so:

  1. Choose the right attorney. This may seem obvious, but many clients pick the first attorney they see. It’s understandable, as it can be emotional, time-consuming, and even expensive to see more than one attorney for a consultation (also see my article on why you shouldn’t see attorneys with free consultations – click here). You may be taking time off work or traveling to their office, which can be a pain. But it’s your family, your children, your money, your assets and your future – shouldn’t you pick the right one? Also, attorneys vary a LOT in temperament, approach to cases, billing practices, responsiveness, and personality. Choose someone you feel you like and trust – this is probably the most important thing. It can be rather expensive to change attorneys, and if you’re doing that, it’s possible you have to work to undo what the first attorney did. It’s much better to just choose wisely in the beginning, even if it’s a little tougher at the start to see a few before you decide.
  2. Know and understand the attorney’s billing practices. Attorneys vary in their billing. We bill in the smallest increments possible – 0.1 of an hour, or 6 minutes. Many attorneys bill in 15 minute increments – which can lead to a whopping bill if you’re charged $100 (0.25 of a $400/hour attorney) for every “quick question” email you send to your attorney! By understanding their practices, you can then tailor your actions to keep the costs down, like, for example, combining your “quick question” emails into not one each day, but a list of 10 questions once a week.
  3. Find out if they will help you keep fees down. In our office, we have a letter for new clients that gives tons of advice and options for keeping attorney fees lower. We let clients know that one email with a bunch of questions will likely be charged less than 10 emails with one question each. We offer the client options for service of documents: we can do it if the opposing party will pick documents up, or the client can do it at no charge to them, or we can pay a service. These are just a couple examples of how we work with clients who want to save money on fees. If your attorney doesn’t have suggestions for keeping fees lower, then maybe they’re not concerned about it – which could be a red flag for you as a client. This of course goes back to suggestion number 1 on keeping fees down.
  4. Stop fighting! The more you and the opposing party argue, the more your fees will be. The more you agree, the less they will be. Court hearings & trials will almost always be the largest chunk of fees that you pay, since family law attorney billing in California is nearly always time-based and court hearings can take multiple hours. Now, you don’t want to just agree to anything to lower your attorney fees, but you should be considering – and talking to your attorney about – the fees when contemplating certain actions. I have clients who want to file this motion and that motion, and in our discussion of whether it’s a good idea or not, we discuss not just the chances of winning, but also the consequences of the action in terms of family harmony and fees. This is how we work holistically with the client to be sure we’re acting in the client’s best interests. But fighting and high conflict for the sake of conflict – because you’re angry that you’re getting divorced, for example – is most often not appropriate to be brought into court. When there’s high conflict for the sake of fighting, the only one who wins is the attorney who is collecting the fees. We always try to encourage settlement when we can.
  5. Stop the bleeding if you’ve made a mistake. If you discover that you have the wrong attorney or have been approaching your case in the wrong way, then it’s not too late to change. It’s almost never too late, so find another attorney or dial down the hostility or change your tactic, and this could bring the fees down – and probably get your case completed more quickly, too.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our series on divorce and family law costs. If you have more questions, we always love to hear from you directly, or you can make an appointment to meet with us by clicking on the tree to the right.

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