Fee agreements vary among law firms, so before making a final decision about who will represent you during a domestic dispute, understand their billing practices before handing over that first check.
A retainer agreement is a binding contract and contains an explanation of who charges how much and why. A retainer is an amount you pay your lawyer in advance of work performed. The money is held in an escrow account to pay for legal fees and court costs as work progresses. To guarantee payment of fees and expenses, some firms require a minimum monthly balance in your escrow account until your case has been completely resolved.
The scope of domestic litigation is impressive. Work on your behalf could include client meetings, letters, pleadings, motions, interrogatories, depositions, correspondence with opposing counsel, negotiations, hearings, and perhaps a trial.
A lower hourly rate does not necessarily mean a lower bill at the end of your case. Some firms ignore miscellaneous items such as postage, photocopying, courier services and long distance, while others charge separately for everything, even time spent reviewing your bill! When litigation looms, every minute counts. Be aware of these not so obvious items as well as fees for administrative assistance, paralegals, associates, and research.
Billable time is also calculated differently among practitioners. Will you be charged in five, ten, or fifteen minutes increments for phone consultations? Are there ways to anticipate your costs, such as standard document preparation fees? What are the consequences of exhausting your finances if your case becomes lengthy and complicated and you can no longer afford to pay your bill?
To make the most of your time get organized! Communicate by fax and e-mail and wait until you have several points to discuss before phoning. If possible, submit your questions in advance to focus quickly. Always tell the truth and disclose fully.
Your attorney is your advocate, not your therapist. Save emotions for counseling and legal issues for your lawyer.
Cindy Hide, BA, JD, is Founder of Divorce Education for Women and author of 7 Steps to Divorcing Wisely: Do I Stay or Do I Leave?: A woamn's guide to pray, pause and ponder. . . She offers family law legal services, telephone life coaching, seminars, FREE e-tips, a Professional Directory and an on-line bookstore with instant downloads, videos and jewelry to empower women in relationship transition. Visit http://www.DivorceEducationForWomen.com or call 713.599.0065.