In family law, attorneys generally charge an upfront retainer before getting started on a client’s case. These retainers are usually between $2,000 and $5,000. While this may seem like a lot, these retainers are quickly depleted after an attorney drafts pleadings and motions, attends hearings, and has multiple communications with clients. Make the most of your retainer by following these 5 general rules to reduce the risk of extraordinary attorney fees later on.
- Choose one form of communication – Oftentimes, clients will leave voicemails and then send follow up emails or vice versa. Clients should be aware that their attorney will likely charge them for both the voicemail and the email, in addition to the follow up correspondence. To reduce attorney fees, stick to one form of communication. It is helpful if you keep the issues direct and to the point. Don’t leave multiple messages on the same issue. Most attorneys have (or should have) a 24-hour rule for returning telephone calls and emails. If your attorney does not follow this policy and you don’t hear back from your attorney for days or even weeks at a time…find another attorney.
- Return your attorney’s request for items promptly and completely – In family law proceedings, attorneys often need extensive documentation regarding a party’s finances or other documentation for custody disputes. Such information could include bank statements, mortgage information, debt balances, etc. It is important to gather all documentation needed at the first request and deliver it promptly to your attorney to limit your attorney’s need to follow up on additional documentation.
- Try to settle your case so you don’t have to go to court – trials and court hearings are very expensive for clients. Trials can range anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000! The best way to reduce the amount you will spend in attorney fees is to settle some, if not all, of the issues in your family law case with the other party outside of court. If parties are unable to settle the issues outside of court, the party will likely incur not only attorney fees, but potentially the cost of mediation, an early neutral evaluation, and a custody evaluation (if the case involves minor children).
- Don’t use your attorney as a mouth piece on every issue—Attorney fees can also quickly increase if you use your attorney to either speak with the opposing party or opposing counsel on every issue in your case. Again, try to resolve issues with the other party first, if possible. If you cannot work out the issue, try to limit the issues you really want to pursue through your attorney. For example, instead of fighting over drop off times for Friday night parenting time, focus on an overall parenting time schedule or the custody issues with your attorney. You can then save money for the more important issues.
- Don’t insist on meeting attorneys after hours or on weekends – Some attorneys refuse to meet with a client afterhours or on weekends. However, if your attorney is willing to meet with you during these times, make sure that he or she is not charging you more. Sometimes attorneys will charge an increased hourly rate for meetings on nights and weekends. When in doubt, check your attorney’s retainer policy or ask.