Your first meeting with your divorce attorney will be an eye-opener. The relentless personal narrative of worst-case scenarios that have been going through your head for the past days, months, and years, will be tailored down to a strategy of do’s and don’ts. You will get a sense of how your relationship will move forward with your children, and a ballpark of the amount of money you will walk away with to start your new life.
If you have found an attorney that you like and trust, by the end of the meeting, you will have divulged to this perfect stranger…everything, including but not limited to: your spouse’s affairs, your financial circumstances, and any mental health and special education concerns you have about your children. These are personal secrets that you have carried with you for years. The release that you feel from sharing these secrets with not just anyone, but an authority on divorce law, will be incredible. You will feel so thankful to have found this person, and you will know deep down that you need this person to help you navigate your way through this difficult time in your life.
Your attorney may be a gem, and she may turn into a life long friend, but please use her time wisely and smartly.
Here are six tips I relay to my clients to keep the fees down on their cases:
1. Don’t Get Divorced
Before moving forward with the divorce, I suggest my clients participate in marriage counseling, and start seeing a therapist. Not all flailing marriages must end in divorce. Earlier this year, I had a client that no longer required my services because she and her husband had decided to give their marriage another shot.
Where couples are able to effectively communicate and compromise, a divorce may be completed through a few sessions of mediation. You will each want your own attorney to review and approve your marital settlement agreement before it is submitted to the Court. If there is an imbalance of power dynamics or domestic violence in your relationship, mediation will probably not be a good fit for you. If this is the case, you should immediately retain your own attorney to make sure that your rights are protected and you receive the relief that you are entitled to.
3. Follow Directions
If you are able to follow your attorney’s directions the first time, she will not have to re-do the documents you prepare or send you follow-up emails and telephone calls to remind you of your homework and pending deadlines.
At Fenchel Family Law, we have created user-friendly online forms with tailored questions to be sure that our clients are empowered with clear instructions so that they have the tools to provide us all the information the first time around. We set automated email reminders so that our clients are not charged for these back-and-forth reminders.
4. Diversify Your Legal Team
Many firms operate in teams with lead attorneys, associate attorneys, and paralegals. The lead attorneys have the most experience and thus the highest hourly rate while the associate attorneys have less experience and thus a lower hourly rate. Request that an associate take on the majority of the pleading preparation in your case. If the work does not require an attorney, request that it be performed by a paralegal.
At Fenchel Family Law, our associate attorney takes on the majority of the pleading preparation, while I handle the strategy sessions, conference calls with clients and experts, and court appearances. Our paralegal and law clerk take on the non-attorney work to keep the costs down on every case.
5. Ask your attorney what tasks you can take off of her plate
There are many tasks that clients can do for attorneys if they have the time and the ability. Tasks may include preparing summaries of the relief that you request regarding custody or financial issues, organizing and labeling your financial documents by hard copy and e-mail, and preparing responses to your spouse’s discovery requests.
6. Don’t sweat the small stuff
Every time you are about to press “send” on an e-mail to your attorney, or commence a call to your attorney, ask yourself, is this really necessary? How will this communication impact your case for the better? Ask yourself if this communication is truly related to helping resolve a legal issue, or if your problem may be better addressed by a therapist. When you do need to email your attorney, keep it short and to the point. If you are able to communicate with your spouse, you may effectively take many of the smaller issues off of your attorney’s plate and reasonably resolve them on your own.
I am frank with my clients and let them know when they are calling me with non-legal issues. Many of my clients still request that we take care of these issues so that they can have the peace of mind that their divorce is being handled, and focus on the areas of their life that bring them joy.
How you spend your legal fees is a personal preference. If your attorney is not upfront with you about the costs associated with the legal services and other services that you may be requesting her firm perform, you may be better served by a different divorce attorney. You should always feel comfortable discussing how you are being billed by your divorce attorney, and have the responsibility to ask questions so that you stay informed about how much you are being charged.