Reduce Your Attorney Fees- Three Ways, Part II
In my last article, I discussed reducing attorney’s fees by being concise when dealing with your attorney. (If you missed that article, click on this link to access it.) This article will explain how you can save thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees by doing certain things yourself. Don’t start sweating yet. I am not suggesting that you stand up before an intimidating judge and argue your own case. But there is a lot you can do to drastically reduce the amount of hours that your attorney and his or her staff spend preparing your case. Of course, reduced attorney time translates to a reduced bill.
To understand how you can do simple (but time consuming) things to reduce your fees, it is helpful to understand what usually occurs in a divorce case.
Sue and Joe determine their marriage is over and file for divorce. During their twenty years of marriage, they have accumulated a house, furniture, dozens of knick-knacks from their travels, and other personal items. They also have a savings account, some money invested in a 401K, and credit card bills. Joe earns $100,000 a year and Sue, a mostly stay at home mom, earns between $10,000 and $25,000 a year at a home-based business that she started. Assume they have two teenage children with an extensive, and therefore expensive, social life.
What happens next? How do they divide the assets they have accumulated and how do they figure out what is a fair rate of spousal and child support? To answer these questions, Sue and Joe’s attorneys both need to review an incredible amount of documents. To do this, they typically serve a request for documents listing certain documents that need to be “produced” within a certain period of time.
What types of documents need to be produced? Everything from a copy of every single check that has been written over the past few years, every credit card statement from the same period, and documents reflecting home and car ownership. Sounds overwhelming, right? Well, we are still not done. Joe suspects Sue’s home-based business generates more than she claims, so he is asking to see every single invoice generated by her company over the course of three years and every receipt incidental to her business. Are you now picturing boxes and boxes of paper?
So how do most clients handle the reams of paper? Exasperated, they simply dump all of this paper into boxes and ship them to their attorney’s offices to be sorted. Because your attorney is not familiar with the items in the boxes they way that you are, it takes many hours to sort, organize, and make sense of the documents. (Many times attorneys have a paralegal in their office to deal with these things, but the paralegal’s time is charged to the client.)
So what should you do when your attorney asks you for certain documents either because your attorney needs them, or your spouse’s attorney has requested them? You should get out your Ipod, put on your sweatpants, and spend the day organizing these documents before shipping them off to your attorney.
You will need to get copies of the checks requested (your bank probably already has these), and put them in chronological order or another order that makes sense. (For example, checks can be divided between household bills, expenses related to children, and entertainment.) Your attorney, knowing your specific situation, may have his or her own suggestions on how they would like to see the documents organized. Everything should be put in labeled folders that clearly state which documents are enclosed. For example, your folder that contains the last five years of tax returns would be labeled “Joint tax returns 2003-2008.”
Is organizing these documents a hassle? Yes! Is it time-consuming? Yes! However, your hard work will literally pay for itself in substantially reduced attorney’s fees.
In my next article, I will discuss how to further reduce the fees that you incur in your divorce case by minimizing blow-ups with your ex.
By Wendy Jaffe, ESQ.