In almost every other aspect of our lives, we know exactly how much we are paying when we purchase something– except in the legal services industry. I can see how it would be very disconcerting for clients to not know exactly how much a divorce is going to cost them, and these days in particular most people are spending money cautiously. So, how can you keep costs down? Easy- the more you do yourself, the less you’ll spend. Here are some tips:
1. Flat fees– At the initial consult, if you want to just have an agreement written, like a prenup or Separation Agreement, ask if the attorney can do this on a flat-fee basis. I do this a lot, and it is nice not worrying about keeping track of charging for emails/calls because there are none. One consult fee, on document prep fee, and I’m done. We all walk away happy.
2. Online forms– See if there are court forms online, and then a lot of people just come to me for a 30 minute consult to ensure they have prepared everything correctly. Again, this is super easy for me– and super cheap for the client.
3. Mediation– If you and your spouse have some unresolved issues, try mediation. When I am acting as a mediator, each party pays half my fee, and usually in a few sessions we have worked through everything, and they walk out with an Agreement (something that non-lawyers cannot provide.) Clients love this pay as you model, and I actually prefer the face-to-face meetings versus keeping track of emails, calls, etc.
4. Collaborative /Cooperative Approach– The more you can agree to do together, like hire one mental health professional to work out your Parenting Plan, or one financial neutral to help you identify and value the joint assets, the more you will save on attorney’s fees. If you are able to address your issues outside of court without going through formal discovery, you should be able to save significantly. It’s the legal brawls in the court room that have the hefty sticker prices.
5. Set Realistic Budgets– I try to set realistic expectations upfront. Calls and emails will add up, so you need to ask yourself is it really worth $35 or more for me to send this email or call my attorney? Can you really afford $300/hour or more? Knowing that the average trial costs $20,000 per person, you have to ask yourself whether you are willing and able to spend that kind of money. Make sure you have a way to finance it all– because guess what? Attorneys will fire clients and stop work if they don’t get paid. Harsh, but true– law firms are not in the money-lending industry. We provide legal services, and those services are not cheap.
In the end, the wealthy can do whatever they want, and the truly poor may be able to get free legal aid, but most of us are somewhere in the middle– what a lot of us refer to as the “working poor.” We make enough to meet our every day expenses, but not enough to finance a super expensive legal case. Luckily, there are affordable options, as mentioned above. So if you need to get out, don’t despair– you just need to find an attorney you like and together figure out an option that works best for you.
By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.