Reduce Attorney Your Fees – Three Ways
One of my favorite attorney jokes goes like this:
A client who felt his legal bill was too high asked his lawyer to itemize costs. The statement included this item:
“Was walking down the street and saw you on the other side. Walked to the corner to cross at the light, crossed the street and walked quickly to catch up with you. Got close and saw it wasn’t you. -$50.00.”
The joke plays on the stereotype that attorneys charge for everything and anything. But the truth of the matter is that attorneys provide a valuable service and charge only for their time and expertise. In the case of a divorce, a good attorney can save their client thousands of dollars. Are there times when a divorce attorney’s fees get out of hand? Of course. But the reality is that the client can play an important role in keeping down the tab. There are three ways you can substantially reduce the attorney’s fees incurred in your divorce case: Be Concise, Do It Yourself, and Stay Calm.
It is very common for someone going though a divorce to want to vent. And venting can be psychologically beneficial. However, pouring out your heart to your attorney can turn out to be very expensive. Does this mean you shouldn’t share the details of your marriage and break-up with your attorney? No. Clearly, it is helpful for your attorney to understand the dynamic of your relationship with your spouse. However, your attorney does not need a five-hour monologue on how horrible your husband’s girlfriend/wife’s boyfriend is and definitely doesn’t need to see the four-hour video from your wedding.
To reduce fees in your divorce case, you need to learn to be concise when emailing, speaking to, or meeting with your attorney.
#1) Think Before You Write:
In the case of an email or a letter to your attorney, think before you type. When contacting your attorney via email (or snail mail), it is important to consolidate any open issues into as few emails/letters as possible. Sending your attorney seven separate emails on seven separate days will cost you more in fees than spelling out the seven issues in one clear email or letter.
In addition, before bringing up an issue with your attorney, consider whether it is something you can resolve on your own. For example, if your spouse is not forwarding information from your child’s school to you, you can avoid the cost of a “lawyer letter” to your spouse’s attorney by simply calling the school and getting your name and address on the school’s mailing list.
See my Sample Email to Attorney at the end of this article. It shows how to write an email to your attorney that is concise, and therefore cost effective.
#2) Make Meetings Matter:
Some people feel like they need to meet with their attorney every time a new issue arises in their case. Certainly you should meet with your attorney during the inception of your case, and, in the unlikely event that your case goes to court, your attorney will want to meet with you one on one to prepare you for trial. Most other issues can typically be resolved with less expensive telephone calls and emails.
Where meetings are necessary, make them count. You can do this by writing down an agenda for the meeting. Another way to make meetings cost effective is to bring all paperwork to the meeting that is connected to the issues being discussed. Ask your attorney (or his or her assistant) what paperwork you should bring to the meeting to make the meeting as productive as possible. It is very common for an attorney to want to review tax returns, end of year pay stubs, and documents which reflect the value of assets such as homes, and cars.
#3) Take Your Attorney Off of Speed-Dial:
The trouble with telephone conversations is that it is very easy to lose track of time. Occasionally situations arise during your case where you will need to speak to your attorney on the phone. When they do, make sure that you look at your watch or clock at the inception of the call so that what should be a ten-minute conversation does not turn into an expensive two-hour dialogue. And although it is tempting to make small talk with your attorney, try to keep your conversations focused on the issue at hand.
For more ways on how to reduce attorney fees, read my next article describing how you can reduce your final bills by doing certain things yourself.
By Wendy Jaffe, ESQ.
Sample Email to Attorney
Below is a sample email from a client to an attorney. My comments in italics are not part of the email; they are meant to show you how a well-crafted email can save you money.
Dear Mr./Ms. Attorney:
I would appreciate your help with the following:
1) Child Support: The court order provides that my ex-husband will pay $1,000 per month in support. The last support check that he sent was for March, 2009. I have not received payments for April or May, 2009. I attempted to contact my ex-husband by telephone on April 15th and again on May 1st, but he did not return my calls. On May 5th, I sent him a certified letter stating that I did not receive the April and May child support checks, but he did not respond.
[Note that the letter saves your attorney time by stating specifically what your ex-spouse was required to pay and what he failed to do. By including information concerning your own attempts to resolve the problem, it lets the attorney know that a letter reminding your spouse to send the checks will likely be ineffective, and that your attorney will have to take stronger measures.]
2) Pre-nuptial Agreement: I am engaged and plan on re-marrying on December 31, 2009. In order to protect my separate property, I would like you to draft a pre-nuptial agreement protecting the following assets: my rental property located at 123 Main Street, Anytown, California, 00000; my 2008 Lexus LX 470, my two retirement accounts. I would also like to get your opinion on whether or not there are other assets that I should include in the agreement.
(As much as you want to share all of the fabulous details about your upcoming marriage, your attorney only needs to know the date of the wedding so that the pre-nuptial agreement can be drafted well before the invitations go out. This email also is clear about the assets that you are interested in protecting.]
Thank you for taking care of these two matters.