Lawyer Fees

Attorney's Fees

 

Introduction

 

It is important to both you and your lawyer that you talk about fees and other costs at your initial consultation. Unless fees and costs are discussed, either of you might make incorrect assumptions about what the other expects, and mutually inconsistent  assumptions are the fodder for future misunderstandings. Always discuss with your lawyer how much you can afford at the outset and any limits you think should be placed on fees. If can't afford the fees of the lawyer you consult, say so. There is a wide range of fees among lawyers practicing in the field of family law.

 

Fee Arrangements.  The way in which lawyers charge fees may vary from lawyer to lawyer. Some typical arrangements include combinations of a retainer, an hourly fee, a contingency fee, an engagement fee, a result-based fee, and flat fee. Fees are based on many factors including the complexity of the case, the skill needed to perform the service properly, whether agreeing to represent you requires your lawyer to turn away other clients, the amount involved, the results obtained, the experience, reputation, and ability of your lawyer, the time limitations you impose, and the circumstances under which the services will be performed.


 

Written Fee Agreements.   A lawyer should ask you to sign a written fee agreement. Before you sign, take the opportunity and time to review the proposed agreement, and to ask any questions you have. What will you be charged for? (See Out of Pocket Expenses, below)

 

Out of Pocket Costs And Expenses.   Costs and expenses are handled in many different ways. They should be covered in any written fee agreement. You may be responsible for paying out-of-pocket costs, such as photocopies, postage, long-distance calls, court filing fees, process servers, court reporters, computer time and similar expenses. Some lawyers charge for travel time. You will be responsible for paying any experts that you and your lawyer decide to hire. If you have questions about costs, ask your lawyer.

 

Security for Payment.   Although it is somewhat unusual, some lawyers may ask for security for the payment of fees and costs. This can include a mortgage on your real estate or a lien on your property. You should carefully review and understand the security agreement and other papers. It is a good idea to review them with another lawyer before signing them. Similarly, your lawyer may ask you to have a friend or relative guarantee payment of your fees. Be sure that the details are thoroughly discussed and that you and the guarantor both understand the papers before signing them.

 

If You Find You Can't Pay According To Your Agreement.   Discuss this dilemma with your lawyer. Most lawyers prefer to resolve fee problems with their clients as the problems arise. After all, they will only get worse if they are not addressed.  Your lawyer may, at this point in the relationship, ask for security for payment, a promissory note, or a regular payment schedule. You might be able to borrow from friends, family or an institutional lender. There are many ways to handle a divorce. If you have instructed your lawyer to do everything possible on your behalf, you might rethink the cost of your strategy. If you revise your instructions so that your lawyer does only those things essential to your proper representation, your fees and costs may be less.

 

If you can't resolve the problem after talking to your lawyer, here is what might happen.

 

Withdrawal.   Your lawyer might withdraw from your case.

           

Liens.   Some states allow a lawyer to have a lien against your property or files until the fees have been paid. Even the states that allow liens have strict rules about how they can be enforced. Before you find yourself in this situation, you should ask your lawyer to explain the rules and procedures to you. You might also want to consult another lawyer about your rights and responsibilities as to such liens. Most states require lawyers to turn over all of the client's papers to the client when withdrawing from a case.

 

Mediation.  If you and your lawyer can't resolve a fee dispute, you might agree to take the dispute to a mediator. A mediator is a person who meets with both of you and tries to help you work out a settlement, usually by reaching a compromise.

 

Arbitration.   Arbitration is presenting your case to someone other than a judge who has power to decide the case. An arbitration award can be made into a

court judgment and enforced. Your written agreement with your lawyer may contain an agreement to arbitrate any fee disputes. Some states provide you the right to arbitrate even if it's not in your fee agreement. Arbitration can be faster, simpler and cheaper than litigation in court.

 

Lawsuits.  If you do not pay the fees you have agreed to pay, the lawyer has a right to sue you for the unpaid fees. In that event, the dispute will be decided by a judge or jury. Many lawyers will only sue a former client as a last resort.

 

Some Questions and Answers About Fees and Costs

 

I don't want the divorce; why do I have to pay for it? We all have expenses for things that happen to us that we don't bring on ourselves. We don't ask to get sick, but if we use health care professionals, we have to pay our medical bills. If you are involved in a divorce and choose to be represented by a lawyer, you must expect to pay for those services.

 

Why do lawyers charge the fees that they do? Lawyers are in business with all of the related expenses and overhead. The overhead influences the hourly rate charged by the lawyer. The lawyer’s reputation also influences how much the lawyer can charge for the services he or she renders. Be aware of the lawyer’s hourly rate, and the hourly rates of those who will assist lawyer. The hourly rates should be listed in the written fee agreement.

 

How much will my divorce cost? Cost is typically a by product of time. There are too many variables that affect the time required to predict a fee in advance. Most of these variables are beyond your lawyer's control. The variables include the kind of lawyer your spouse hires, the personality dynamics between you and your spouse, the procedures and docket of the court in which your case is filed, and an abundance of other influences. It is impossible to predict how much a divorce will ultimately cost. The best your lawyer can do is to estimate a range.

 

Is there anything I can do to help keep the fees down? Yes. Be actively involved in your case. Take the time to learn what is going on. Follow your lawyer's instructions. Volunteer to help with the work whenever possible. Have reasonable expectations of your lawyer. Watch for ways to settle issues. Don't insist on fighting to the last drop of blood over small issues, or for a supposed principle.

 

Can I make my spouse pay my fees? There is certainly no guarantee, but it is certainly within the discretion of the court to do so in appropriate circumstances. If you get such an order, your lawyer will credit what is actually paid to your account. But seeking such an order does not change your obligation to pay legal fees at the outset, and during, your representation. Not many lawyers will accept a case based upon  the possibility that the other spouse will be required to pay the fee by court order.

 

          What can I do if I can’t afford the lawyer I want? In most communities, there is a wide variety of providers of legal services. Everyone should be able to find help at a price they can afford. There may be another lawyer in the office of the lawyer of your choice who is quite competent to handle your case and whose rates are lower.

 

          Will my lawyer wait until the case is completed for me to pay fees and costs? Not usually. You cannot realistically expect your lawyer to wait until your case is over to be paid. If money must be borrowed to finance your divorce case, you should borrow it, not your lawyer. Although some lawyers will wait for part of their fee, especially if given some security, most will expect you to pay your fees as the case progresses, even if you have to borrow it.

 

          Why does my lawyer charge me every time we talk on the phone? A lawyer's time and advice is his stock in trade. Time on the phone is essential and valuable. There are some ways, however, that you can consider to minimize fees for phone calls. Accumulate several questions, write them down, and ask them all during one call. When giving your lawyer information, it may be more efficient to give it to a secretary or to send it in writing. Nonetheless, every person and every case is different. If you need the reassurance and are willing to pay for it, it might be worth it to you to call more often.

 

          What if I can’t pay for appraisers and other experts? If you don't have money to hire experts, you may have no choice but to proceed without experts. It may also be possible to get a court order for expert's fees to be advanced by your spouse or from marital property. In any event, it is not your lawyer's obligation to pay for experts which might be needed on your case.

 

          Why do I have to pay a lawyer to force my ex-spouse to comply with the marital settlement or judgment? No one can guarantee that your spouse will honor agreements or court orders. Courts will enforce orders if an appropriate request is made, but it is not the lawyer’s responsibility to provide enforcement for no fee.

 

   
           A Portion of Your Legal Fees May Be Deductible.     
If you itemize your deductions on your Federal Income Tax Return amounts which are paid (a) to produce taxable income, (b) to collect taxable income, or (c) to manage or protect property held for earning income are deductible on Schedule A line 22 to the extent they total more than 2% of your adjusted gross income. This would include lawyer fees paid to obtain or to collect alimony.  Thus, if your adjusted gross income is $30,000, you can deduct your miscellaneous deductions in excess of $600.

 

 

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