Tips For Keeping Fees Down

1. Find a lawyer who you can trust and with whom you feel a genuine connection.  

The best practice for hiring a lawyer is to work with someone you trust. If you trust them, you will hopefully listen to their advice and consider it. You are paying for your lawyer to advise you. That is what we do - we sell our time and advice.  At least listen, because that is what you are paying for.  Ignoring a lawyer’s observations and concerns about your legal situation can get very expensive.  I can’t count the number of times where I have seen cases (of all types) in which if the person had initially consulted or paid a lawyer they would have saved a ton of money (and typically a lot of unnecessary grief).  As Ben Franklin said “Don’t be penny-wise and pound foolish”.

 How do you know if you can trust a lawyer?  I think you have to meet with them in person.  I charge for a paid extended consultation, of what is typically 2 hours, at a reduced rate of $450 vs. $550 (vs. $275 an hour).  In that time, I can get to know a prospective client, see if we can identify and accomplish their goals, and try to formulate an agreeable plan.  I can also answer their questions and provide further guidance on how they can help out in reducing their fees. (For example, I typically assign homework).  Sometimes I tell them that they do not necessarily need a lawyer and will guide them in the task at hand. Ocasionally, we finish early and I can apply that time to another task they desire.  If they want to retain me after we meet, then fine, I will quote them a retainer.  But if not, we have each gained knowledge and they have had their questions answered and been given much to think about.  Some lawyers will quote retainers over the phone.  That’s o.k. too, if that is what you want, but in order to establish genuine trust and rapport with a person - you have to look them in the eye.  You have to spend time.  If your case is important, then so is that first step.  What happens if you spend time and do not like the lawyer? My best guess is that if you do not like them then you will not trust them and you should probably move on until you find someone you like and can trust to handle your case.  


2. Beware of your emotions (and of the lawyer’s).

 Most cases settle before trial.  Some case settle early, but others may not reach resolution  until the case is ready for trial, and many even settle while in court.  If you want to make some lawyer happy, go in and tell them how angry you are and how money is no object.  Tell them that “It is the principle of the matter” and how much you desire to prove yourself right at any cost. I promise you that there are plenty of lawyers who will take your money and fight until the cows all come home.  In that scenario, typically the lawyers win and the parties lose. If there are kids involved, they lose out as well.  I am not a therapist, but I have done this for a long time. If your uncontrolled emotions are hurting your case, then I will tell you, but it is up to you to control your emotions.   If money is the topic in dispute, it is typically a business decision, plan and simple.   A good lawyer can help you not let your emotions interfere with what is best for you and you children. A good lawyer will try to get you to be more objective.

 Sometimes both parties are overly emotional and in need of cooling off. Good lawyers see that and communicate with each other and try to cool matters down to the business at hand.  I am reminded of an ancient Chinese proverb that can apply to either or both parties: “When setting out on revenge, first dig two graves.”    A domestic relations case is not about revenge.  It is typically about determining what is best for all parties, under the facts, in order to have a better future.   Yes, this means aggressive and zealous advocacy for your position, and trying to stand up for what is “right” and trying to get what you want, but it also means listening to the voice of reason.  There are many times when a slight nudge will dislodge matters and a case can be settled.  It does not always take a 600 pound Gorilla swinging a 16 pound sledge hammer to resolve a case.  While it may feel good (for a minute) to swing away and try to cause heavy damage, frequently the damage is done to both parties.

Now, please do not be mistaken, I have no hesitation in whacking someone over the head who needs it, but that is always a last resort, for two reasons: One, is that in most domestic relations cases the parties will typically have some future dealings - especially if kids are involved; and, Second, is that the path to trial through scorched earth is very expensive.  So, as Teddy Roosevelt said, I like to “walk softly and carry a big stick” (just in case).  General Sun Tzu described this best, over 2,500 years ago in “The Art of War”, in what is referred to as “The Sheathed Sword”: “Focus is on knowledge of self and opposition, and the accomplishment of objectives by informed pre-positioning so as to minimize the need to engage in costly conflict.” All conflict is costly. Make your best plan ahead of time and try to avoid the costliest of conflicts, when and if possible. 


3. Know that you do not control the fees & expenses as much as the other side.     

I can say this for my clients: Once the facts are known and the documents done, my goal is to expeditiously resolve your case.  Most lawyers operate under that assumption. Sometimes, the other lawyer or the other party does not want that, either for financial or personal reasons.  Ultimately, that may end up being why the case must go to trial. However, you should not let yourself be the unreasonable obstacle that ends up costing you more money than is necessary. 

I would be lying to you if I told you that there were not a good many lawyers out there who can or will put their own personal financial interests ahead of yours.  I can tell you it can be disgusting, as I see it typically when I am the second or third lawyer in a case, who ends up trying and concluding it, and also dealing with the ramifications of excessive legal fees.  People going through emotional and difficult times are very vulnerable financially.  So, you have to trust your lawyer to put your current and future financial interests first. See point number 1 above. A few hundred dollars can sometimes save you thousands.


4. Realize that time is money. 

Most lawyers bill in increments of one tenth of an hour or 6 minutes.  Most lawyers also bill for support staff time and some bill for more junior lawyers called associates (and bill to supervise them).  I saw one lawyer’s contract recently which stated that they billed a minimum charge of 2/10ths of an hour for anything and everything (12 minutes).  Then I saw on their bill that they actually charged a client $70.00 to look at “review” a court reporter’s bill ($350 an hour for 12 minutes), etc..  That is ridiculous and offensive, so beware (and read the representation contract before you sign it!). Also realize that daily emails and frequent phone calls will rack up the bill in hurry.  This is an easy trap for the overly emotional to fall in to.  A psychologist or marriage and family therapist is always cheaper to “vent” to than a lawyer. So, it is important to communicate with your lawyer for sure, but be as clear and concise and responsive as possible and realize that if you frequently demand their time, that accordingly you will be billed more.            


5. I have yet to see an “uncontested” case.

Be careful when you see other lawyers advertising cheap “uncontested” divorces.  Just remember that there would not be family law or domestic relations cases if everyone could agree on everything.  Realistically, domestic law retainers in Georgia may be from  $1,500 to as much as ten thousand dollars - or even more.  I try to hold no more of a client’s money than I need to control immediate expenses and time which I am fairly certain will be needed in the case.  But, I also try to be realistic given the issues and foreseeable level of conflict, as well as in consideration of the income and assets of the parties.

6. Beware of well meaning family and friends.

When a case first starts out, sometimes (even years before, in fact) or usually, people will tell their family friend and co-workers about their domestic relations problems.  Some people even post them to Facebook and other social media.  As expected, people who care for them will rally around them and offer advice and support, mostly meaning well and “just trying to help”.   It is easy to fall into that and to become prey for heightened emotions, but you should always remember one thing: None of these people will have to live with the consequences of the decisions you make regarding you own situation and your own case.  Conversely, you will have to live with the effects forever or typically at least for a long time.

Many of the these people are simply trying to tell you what they think you want to hear because they care about you.  Lawyers care about you too, but we typically try to tell you the bad things about your case as well.   Lawyers can (should) objectively weigh the evidence in a case and recommend a course of action, based on their many years of training, education and experience.  You are not paying others for their advice.

Do not fall into the trap of “a pity party”. Always keep your own interests, and the interest of your children, first and foremost.  It is very easy for others (again well meaning) to offer lots of advice, but they do not always know all of the true facts and they hardly ever know the other side’s version of the facts.  Also, many times I have seen the “outsiders” promise to be at trial and to testify, etc., but when the time comes for that, a dozen excuses are offered and you are left alone when facing the evidence and outcome. It is just human nature to try to help out and offer emotional support to others whom we care about, but use caution and realize that it is your case, your family, your money, and your future - and no one else’s.  

If you are experiencing such a challenge the quality or affordability of your attorney should not add to your challenges. For rigorous defense call (770) 999-6700.