As a client you want your attorney to give you the best quality representation for a price that doesn’t break the bank. Being a smart consumer about your legal services can help you cut your costs. In this article I discuss how you can maximize the value of legal services provided by your lawyer.
“How much is this going to cost?”
A big question on everyone’s mind when they go to see a lawyer on a matter is “How much is this going to cost me?” You are entitled to, and should, ask this question up front. A lawyer’s pricing structure should be clear—lawyers often charge by the hour or sometimes they have flat fee agreements if the matter has a definite end point (drafting a document such as a contract or will for example). Another option is for lawyers to take cases for “contingency” fees, that is, the client pays no money up front but the attorney will receive a percentage of any money that is won in an eventual lawsuit. However an attorney chooses to price a case, that pricing needs to be fully explained to you before you sign any agreement with the attorney for representation.
Complex cases can be difficult to estimate
In cases involving complex contested issue, a precise answer as to what a case will cost is more difficult to give. The answer “It depends” is not a satisfying one. Nor should it be. While no attorney can see into the future in matters that may be hotly argued it is reasonable for a client to ask for an estimate of what a matter would cost if it were to go to court.
Be an active participant in your representation
While you may not understand the intricacies of the law as it affects you, you can think about your situation and what might be acceptable outcomes for you before you consult with an attorney. In a family law case particularly when it comes to division of property, you might want to think about what issues you feel could be settled or agreed to off the bat. It is a simple truth that conflict in the legal world is costly for a client. If there are issues to be agreed upon you should consider them first if you can and consult with an attorney to make sure that what you are agreeing to is fair and reasonable. If some conflict is unavoidable it is still possible to isolate issues that can be agreed on saving you expense and time.
For many separating couples, the emotional trauma of actual separation is further complicated by the potentially devastating economic consequences of splitting one house into two. Add large legal bills to this situation and you have one reason why many couples are actually choosing to stay together purely for economic reasons. How is it practically feasible to get a divorce without spending thousands of dollars while still making sure that your divorce papers are in order?
A different model of legal service
Think of it as separating out or “unbundling” the various legal tasks involved in the divorce process to get the most cost effective services from an attorney. If you learn that starting the divorce process involves filing, say, five documents you might go to an attorney for advice and assistance in preparing those documents to be filed with the court. The attorney might not actually go to court with you, however he or she will ensure that all documents are appropriately ready to be presented to the court. You could continue to pay that attorney for their time to assist you in further filings and preparations of documents. While you would be representing yourself on the record, you would under the guidance of an attorney, be doing so in an informed way and be saving yourself many billable hours of legal fees.
Another type of unbundled legal service might be a matter where an attorney provides a “limited scope of representation” in a particular issue. The attorney might step in to negotiate one aspect of your case even if the other side were represented by an attorney perhaps to reach a settlement.
Are unbundled legal services always appropriate?
Unbundled legal services are not always the best option in every case. These services might not be appropriate in a situation where the other side has an attorney who is representing them and the issues are highly complicated and contested. It requires you as a client to be an extremely active participant in your case and to be prepared to do some footwork in terms of court filings if you were to represent yourself. It is an option that works best where the issues involved can be agreed upon.
Your husband or wife has told you “I want a divorce.” You are now faced with the question, what do you do next? The time during which a couple is faced with the possibility of a divorce is an emotional one: fraught with tension, sadness and often anger. It can be difficult to see the forest for the trees. The reality is that it is critical from the outset that both parties try to get a handle on what the legal process is and how they wish to approach the issues before them. This article addresses some questions confronting a couple who are standing at the threshold of separation and divorce.
Can one spouse legally stop the divorce?
In the movies we hear a fictional husband or wife shout dramatically “I will never let you get a divorce!” The reality in Washington State is somewhat different. One spouse can affirm that the marriage is over by invoking the one legal ground for divorce, that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” Stating this assertion in the appropriate legal divorce document (the Petition for Dissolution) is all that is necessary—no proof is required. But while a spouse cannot stop the divorce from being initiated, he or she does have a right to dispute issues that arise out of the divorce regarding division of property, placement of children, etc. These disputes can make a divorce a more prolonged process. And while some disputes are a healthy aspect of our justice system, the goal for every divorcing spouse should be to identify those issues that are true points of contention and work to resolve those disputes in a timely manner.
List important legal and other issues
The best way to identify what is at issue between you and your divorcing spouse is to make your own list of important issues. Some of these issues may be extra-legal –they may not require the intervention of the legal system but they may be important to you. Write down those issues that you see arising upon a potential separation – not just issues surrounding division of your home and bank accounts, or where you see the children living, but also other issues; who keeps the dogs or the cats if you have them, who pays for magazine subscriptions, etc. Being concrete will assist you in either coming up with a mutually agreeable plan or knowing where your issues of contention lie.
What if it seems my spouse will never be reasonable?
If your spouse does not seem willing to reach any kind of agreement about any issue then you must be prepared to proceed forward with an attorney on your side. Your attorney will protect your interests fairly and completely just as they would if they were reaching a settlement for you. Divorce, like marriage, is a dynamic process, however, and a seemingly unreasonable spouse can change their positions as the process moves forward. An important goal is for you to maintain a consistent and fair approach, with appropriate guidance that will help your divorce go forward as smoothly as it can.