We bill hourly like all attorneys but approach our billing in a way that is more transparent, honest and fair. We don’t play games or hide the ball. We have an open and honest dialogue about costs. We publish our hourly rates and estimated retainer fees online.
Our clients are given the option of what type of retainer he or she wants. There are two options:
1) Lower retainer
2) Larger retainer, but no credit card on file.
You get all unused trust funds back at the end of your case. Many firms keep the retainer fee no matter what, but we don’t think that is fair. Therefore, our retainer fees are refundable.
Attorney’s hourly rates, along with any court costs or expenses will be deducted from the trust. For example, if you pay a $7,500 retainer and the lawyer charges $200 to prepare a divorce petition, that $200 will be deducted from the retainer bringing it down to $7,300.
Complex and contested divorce and custody cases are complex. Excellent attorneys are hard to find and are expensive. Our clients understand these facts. They are willing to pay high hourly rates if they get the service they deserve. That is fair and the way it should be.
What clients are not willing to do is pay for a mystery. A lot of law firms use rates as a bait and switch. You see the rates on the paper, but then you get the bill, and there is so much more on it than just the attorney rates. Fax charges (most firms still use these!), inflated billing, partners doing associate level work, and overall inefficiency. These are just a few of the ways attorneys hide the real costs of a family law case. Also, most firms don’t have as many clients as they want, so they tend to over-bill on the cases they have.
We offer fair fees. We don’t ding you with petty charges. We’re obsessed with efficiency. We staff every case with an associate so a partner is not doing associate level work (or vice versa). We do not inflate our billing with padded bills or minimum 15 or 30 minute increments. We have fair, transparent billing that we send out each month so that you know where you stand. We have a very healthy client roster, so we have no incentive to over-bill clients.
Contested divorces are expensive. Often times clients don’t have the cash in hand to pay what an attorney is demanding to get started or take the case to trial. So, what are your funding options?
Often one spouse controls all/most of the assets. This makes it difficult/impossible for the spouse without access to secure the representation they need. The good news is that there are options if you’re in this situation:
- Cash or reserve funds. For people who have the savings set aside, the easiest way to pay for an attorney is by using the savings.
- Credit cards. Many people use credit cards to pay retainer fees. Some attorneys accept credit cards. In a divorce, these charges are usually considered a “Community” expense, meaning that your spouse will share in the cost
- Borrowing money from your retirement account. This can be slow and have tax consequences.
- Borrowing money from family or friends in the form of a gift or a loan.
- Having friends/family pay the retainer fee directly to the law firm. The client still directs the case and makes all decisions.
- Third-Party Divorce Funding. Clients sometimes ask their attorney to finance their case by not collecting fees when due. This is a bad idea and probably a conflict of interest! An attorney cannot best represent a client who owes thousands of dollars to the firm. It could cloud the lawyers’ judgment or affect the level of representation provided to the client.
It is best to borrow money from financing companies, or outside sources, not from attorneys or law firms. If you owe your lawyer money, do you really think he or she is going to give you the service you deserve? It’s simple logic. The lawyer wants to work on your case, not worry about payment. The client wants the lawyer spending time working on the case, not acting like a debt collector.
At the outset, we strive to have an honest discussion with clients about the cost of their case. Most clients fall into the traditional arrangement of paying a retainer and the lawyer billing against the retainer throughout the case until conclusion.
A California lawyer may represent a client in a limited scope. This means that the lawyer just represents the client on a very specific matter, like handling a particular hearing or a discovery matter.
We see this most often when a client has a trial or hearing coming up and realizes his or her lawyer is not prepared or not skilled enough to handle the matter. While in most situations it makes sense for the client to retain the firm for the entire case, we do have situations that arise for which a limited scope arrangement makes the most sense.
Flat fees options are rare in family law cases, but options are available. Flat fee options typically make sense when a case is set for final trial. A lot of lawyers are unwilling or unable to efficiently and effectively try a case to trial. We do offer flat fees in limited circumstances.
Do It Yourself Divorce or Custody
This makes sense if everything is agreed and the issues are simple. Even then, you probably want to have an attorney review the final paperwork.
In a complex or contested case, trying to go it alone in a complex case only makes it most costly in the end. Not only will you end up paying for a lawyer, but you’ll also pay for that lawyer to fix mistakes made when representing yourself.