How To Keep Your Litigation Costs Down
Since lawyers often charge hundreds of dollars an hour to represent clients in their divorce or family law action, you may be wondering how you are going to afford it! Fortunately, there are ways to reduce your legal fees. As a divorce attorney with more than 15 years of experience, I have some tips to share on how to reduce the cost of litigation:
- Carefully review your attorney’s retainer agreement: Before representing a client, every Florida attorney is required by law to sign a written retainer agreement along with their client. When you read it, make sure that you fully understand the attorney’s hourly rate and the time increments that the attorney charges. Usually, attorneys charge in 12-minute increments. Also, find out if your attorney will charge for travel time, photocopying, secretarial/paralegal work, and postage expenses. You may be able to do some of this work yourself for less!
- Don’t treat an email like a text: While email is one of the most efficient ways that you can communicate with your attorney, you should try not to use it frequently. You will be charged for the attorney’s time to review any email that you send (the standard rate is $60 per email), so don’t send anything that you don’t need to! Consider your inquiry and if it would be less expensive to ask your attorney over the phone. I warn my clients to use emails very sparingly and only for legal issues. If you think about emails like text messages, then you could deplete your retainer very quickly.
- Promptly answer your attorney’s questions: Since your case is probably not the only case that your attorney is handling, it is best to provide prompt responses while the information is still fresh in your attorney’s mind. This will allow them to complete work faster and keep your case moving! The more time that your attorney has to spend refreshing themselves about your case, the more they will charge you!
- Reduce conflict with your spouse: If you are unwilling to negotiate with your spouse, that means that your attorney will have to do it for you. Any time that you use your attorney to communicate, you are getting billed. In addition, you may have to spend more time in court.
- Keep things simple: If you have few assets and no conflict over your parenting plan, then expenses are more likely to be low. On the other hand, if you and your spouse are unwilling to compromise, or your spouse’s attorney is adversarial, then you will be dealing with a more complex and acrimonious divorce that is also more expensive.
- Don’t look to your attorney for therapy: While many attorneys are more than happy to provide empathetic conversation when you are unhappy, you can’t blame them for charging you for it. They are professionals who bill for their time. If you want to reduce your legal costs, then use your attorney for counsel about your legal problems. Use your therapist, friends, and hairdresser for everything else. I don’t say this to completely discourage you from ever talking to your attorney, but simply to remind you to be efficient and use your time with them wisely.
- Look at your bill right after you get it: Even if you don’t plan on paying it right away, review your legal bill every month as soon as you receive it. If you have questions, send a separate communication about it. Don’t begin talking about your case in the same email or phone call.
- Do as much as you can on your own: Don’t expect an attorney to do all your homework for you. If they ask for certain information, get it as soon as possible with your own resources, unless you expect to pay for it. This often happens to me when I ask clients to get their financial affidavits.
- Make it a point to check-in: If you’ve haven’t heard from your attorney for a while, then give them a quick call for an updated. If you stay in regular contact with your attorney, he or she will be more likely to proceed with your case. If your attorney is on vacation or in trial with another client, you should know about it! Try and resist the temptation to update the attorney on everything that’s happened since you last spoke with them. Keep your call short and to the point!
- Communicate with your spouse if you can: While some attorneys advise their clients to cease communication with their spouse as much as possible after a divorce has started, I am not one of those attorneys. If you can agree on things ahead of time, then your divorce will be much shorter and much less expensive. The less you can involve your attorney, the better. After all, once your divorce is complete, you will still have an ex-spouse who you will need to communicate with, especially if there are children involved. After you communicate with your spouse, however, it is important that you keep your attorney updated on all that happened. You want to make sure that you and your attorney are on the same page during negotiation!
- Photocopy documents yourself: When your attorney asks you for a certain document, he or she will most likely be sending it to someone else as well. Before sending, ask your attorney how many copies he or she needs and send that amount. This saves your attorney time, and it saves you money. It is also just nice to do because it makes your attorney’s life easier.
- Choose your battles: In a divorce, both spouses have to make compromises. Try not to fight over every little piece of property, even if your spouse is. It is more important to come out of a divorce in the best emotional and financial state as possible. Getting one more piece of personal property is not the key to that end. As best you can, maintain control of your emotions and be as reasonable as possible. Know the Florida statutes and know what your attorney is doing! Don’t let your attorney or your spouse’s attorney encourage any further conflict between you.
- Think about using a financial planner: While attorneys are often focused on getting you the most amount of money possible, a financial planner can look at the bigger picture. They will help you with taxes, which are often not considered in property division, and will help you get a better idea of your financial state post-divorce. An attorney can do this, but at a much higher cost.
- Consider options other than litigation: Before rushing headlong into litigation, consider mediation and working with a mental health professional. These may be much less expensive and much quicker approaches than going to court.
- Don’t micromanage: While it is important to keep up on what your attorney is doing, don’t micromanage them! Paying extreme attention to every detail of the case will slow the process down and cause your legal bills to escalate!
- Continually analyze the cost-benefit of each issue: As critical issues come up, consult with your attorney objectively and figure out if negotiating should be pursued. If it is going to cost a thousand dollars for your attorney to enter a motion for this matter, is it worth it to you? In addition to legal fees, it also may cause disruption, missed work or family time. Your attorney will have to spend hours and hours working on the motion, which can really add up! Try and compromise first, then pursue litigation if it is unavoidable.
- Promptly pay your bills!: Just like everyone else, attorneys have bills to pay, so make sure you pay yours on time! Attorneys appreciate clients who are responsible and pay what they owe.
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Call my office at (352) 310-8235 to schedule an initial low-cost consultation. My firm is focused on making this divorce process as easy and quick as possible. We use cutting-edge technology, such as e-filing, e billing, e-discovery and other tools to reduce time and cost.
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