Everyone would like to cut expenses, but for many couples going through a divorce, they just keep piling up, especially legal fees. Surprisingly, the experienced attorney with the higher hourly rate may not be the most expensive. When you hire an experienced divorce attorney, he or she will be able to identify the critical issues in your case, set reasonable expectations for the eventual outcome, have the skills to represent you in court, and be able to guide you on where to invest your legal dollars. He or she will have a large database of documents drafted in similar cases to draw upon and customize to fit your needs, saving you time and money. These advantages will likely to save you money over a less experienced attorney.
So where can you find some savings without sacrificing quality?
Since a client is billed based on the time a lawyer spends on their case, anything the client does to cut down on that time will save money. With that in mind, here are some suggestions on how you can reduce lawyer time spent on your case and save on your legal fees:
1. Most people hiring a divorce attorney will be asked to provide their lawyer with copies of their complete financial history, sometimes going back several years. This typically includes copies of all bank records, tax returns, brokerage records, deeds, titles, etc. This can be a very large task, but it is a great way for clients to cut costs by doing the organizing work themselves.
For instance, Client #1, who comes in with a grocery bag full of unsorted papers in response to this request. That client will be paying for the time it takes for an associate or paralegal to sort through and organize those documents, and then have them copied or scanned. If pages are missing, Client #1 may have to pay for the firm to get copies directly from banks and other institutions to fill in missing information. This exercise will take hours of legal work and cost hundreds of poorly spent dollars for Client #1.
Now compare Client #1 to Client #2, who carefully assembles her documents and has them scanned onto a storage device or provides us with neatly indexed and organized binders containing all of the documents requested in chronological order, including both a copy for our firm and one for the opposing counsel. This makes it easy for the lawyer to look over the documents, identify any issues, and then serve the documents on the other attorney. Most importantly, this saves hours of legal work for the attorney and staff. Client #2’s efforts can save her hundreds of dollars, and she earns the gratitude of her lawyer and her staff as a bonus!
2. I long ago lost count of the number of times a client has told me that their future ex-spouse has refused to discuss and issue and told them to have her lawyer take it up with his lawyer. That should never be the approach for dealing with day-to-day issues, which ideally should not involve the lawyers. It is almost always a waste of your money to have your attorney take the time to address minor matters that have no enduring benefit to you or your case. Since saving money is likely a common goal you share with your future ex-spouse, I encourage my clients to try to find a method to handle these issues outside of involving the attorney.
What if your ex will not cooperate? Try to stay focused on the benefits and the costs when deciding whether to ask your lawyer to intervene. For instance, if the issue involves a needed repair in the home, and the cost is $300, should you involve your lawyer, who will involve your spouse’s lawyer, at a likely combined expense that is greater then the cost of the needed repair? Some clients will want to do just that, perhaps in the hope that doing it once will encourage the intransigent spouse to cooperate next time, while others will prefer to make the repair and ask for a credit or offset later. Do what is best for you, but don’t lose sight of the costs and ultimate benefit. The fact is it is never wise to spend hundreds of dollars on an issue with little end reward. Spend your money where it counts.
3. Meeting deadlines is another area where money can be saved. Each missed deadline will have a consequence, from minor to major, and a corresponding expense. While missing some deadlines may be unavoidable, others can be avoided, as can the corresponding expense.
Make no mistake that the client who routinely needs reminders of deadlines, or who needs to be prodded to bring in requested documents, will pay more in legal fees. These delays may require the attorney to take the time to call the client, send out reminder letters, and arrange for extensions of time with the court or opposing counsel. The expenses may be more significant where the client’s failure to meet deadlines despite repeated warnings from the court and lawyers, leading to costly court motions with significant legal consequences.
These legal fees can be saved just by meeting deadlines. As a bonus, your attorney will appreciate having a cooperative client who is on top of their case.
4. During your divorce you may have complaints about the behavior of your future ex, his lawyer, the courts, and the system. Your complaints may be valid, but they will have no legal or practical solution short of bringing your case to its conclusion and getting you divorced. Avoid calling your lawyer when these issues come up unless you want to pay for her to just listen to the complaint. Call someone who will not charge you for the time it takes to hear your complaint!
There are undoubtedly many ways to save money on legal fees that are not included here. As a rule, anything you can do to minimize the time spent on your case by your lawyer will save you money. Your lawyer should be able to identify areas where you can save without sacrificing the quality of services provided. If he or she does have other suggestions on how you can save money, please post them here as a comment and share them with our readers. The advice will be much appreciated!