How to Hire A Divorce Attorney Without Going Bankrupt
A Guide to Getting More Bang for Your Buck in Legal Fees
In a divorce, stress is sky-high – and so are legal fees. In the U.S. in 2020, the average divorce cost a staggering $12,900. And while much of this is unavoidable – attorneys are expensive, and I daresay for good reason – clients actually have a bit more control over the total cost than they think. So, how DO you save money when hiring a divorce lawyer?
Divorce attorneys typically bill hourly. This means that clients pay for every action their attorney takes on a case: listening to voicemails. Drafting documents. Responding to emails. Sifting through files. Thinking about your case on the commute home (well, not quite – but you get the idea). This means that as the client, you can unwittingly add heaps of work to your lawyer’s plate – translating to hundreds or even thousands of extra dollars on your bill – by being unscrupulous in your communications, your requests, or your expectations.
While hiring a lawyer will never be cheap, here’s the good news: you can do your part to save money when hiring a divorce lawyer. In some cases, this means mastering the art of efficient communication to slash hours of phone tag or email volleyball. In others, it means dodging some serious (and common) faux pas that can throw a wrench in your case. Regardless, small steps can help you not only shave a few hundred dollars off your bill, but also help your lawyer provide you with the best representation possible. The result? Everyone wins.
And who doesn’t want that?
9 Ways To Save Money On A Divorce Lawyer
#1: Lay a foundation of truth and transparency.
At your very first meeting with your lawyer, provide a realistic picture of your case, including every salient fact. To jog your memory, bring notes. The last thing you want to do is force your lawyer into a fishing expedition to discover facts you could have shared at the very first meeting. Creating unnecessary obstacles for your lawyer to navigate translates to – you guessed it – a higher price tag. In the same vein, be honest and forthright about the weaknesses in your case. It’s not your lawyer’s job to present you as the hero, but rather, to present the strongest case possible and inoculate any weaknesses. Give your lawyer the unvarnished truth and let her do her part.
#2: Prepare for meetings.
Preparation will yield fruitful meetings, so do your homework before you meet with your lawyer. Gather documents, jot down notes about new developments in your case, and record your questions. This will enable your lawyer to work expeditiously and independently on your case, saving time and money in the long run. On that note, take notes during your meetings with your lawyer so you don’t have to ask the same question twice.
#3: Organize your documents.
If your attorney asks for bank records, include all of them. She shouldn’t have to hassle you just to get the key information she needs to represent you well. Not to mention, the more time a lawyer spends preparing and organizing documents, the steeper your bill. If you are gathering years of bank records, present them in a binder with tabs and labels. You don’t need to pay for the time your lawyer or her staff spends doing this grunt work when you can easily do it yourself.
#4: Batch your correspondence.
Before you start to fire random emails, sit down to think through all of your questions, comments, updates, and concerns. Then, compile them into a single email. Alternatively, schedule a call with your lawyer to walk through them efficiently. This will take some planning on your part, but will save you substantially – not to mention, it will help your lawyer. Lawyers are busy people with many clients to serve, so try to catch them when you have their full attention instead of throwing darts at a moving target.
#5: Befriend the staff.
If your question or concern is non-legal or logistical (e.g., confirming a meeting date or location), call your attorney’s assistant or paralegal. Typically, support staff bill at a much lower rate and they are accustomed to helping clients manage the logistics of their cases. For this reason, it’s a good idea to establish a positive relationship with the lawyer’s staff. They are the unsung heroes of every law firm and will help if you find yourself in a pinch.
Lawyers face unforgiving deadlines, particularly in litigation, and in some cases missing them can be fatal to your case. When your attorney requests information or documents, respond! Not only will this help your lawyer present the strongest case on your behalf, but it will also prevent you from wasting thousands of dollars on unnecessary motions or appeals.
#7: Sleep on personal drama.
Yes, your attorney needs to know about developments in your custody case, significant changes in your financial situation, and other life updates. But if the issues are highly emotional and leaving you feeling the need to “just vent,” take a night or two to sleep on it before looping in your lawyer. While it may feel earth-shattering at the time, the issue may not be material to your case. If, however, you believe that it is material, calmly present the facts to your lawyer. As a general rule, though, it’s wise to fight the urge to update your lawyer on every new slice of drama: you don’t want to waste your money venting when it would be better invested in handling substantive issues.
#8: Consider mediation.
At your first meeting with your lawyer, ask about the benefits and drawbacks of early mediation. Generally, mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution are far less costly than going to trial. Mediation is also less antagonistic, bringing parties together around the table to discuss a mutually beneficial resolution. For that reason, many clients often find that resolving a case through mediation is more likely to leave personal relationships intact.
#9: Respect your attorney’s role.
Your divorce lawyer has a specific role to fill. She is not a therapist or the friend you meet for happy hour. Maintain a healthy level of detachment from your lawyer and be cautious not to pull her into matters that another person is better equipped to handle. However, never hesitate to ask your lawyer for a referral to a mental health specialist if you need additional support. Divorce attorneys are well connected and equipped to provide clients with the resources they need to navigate a difficult season. Ultimately, a good attorney wants to see her clients thrive, so don’t be afraid to ask for direction.
And, most importantly, don’t forget to call that friend for happy hour. They will be glad to hear your stories and struggles – and they won’t charge you for it, saving you and your lawyer time and money.