The dissolution of a marriage often comes at a time when a family is going through a financial as well as emotional crisis. Sometimes the emotional crisis can make the financial one worse by increasing the attorney’s fees incurred and costs expended. For example, if a spouse is vindictive or just plain upset, he or she can refuse to negotiate in good faith, or act in such a way as to provoke numerous court appearances or otherwise delay the proceedings. When this happens it is usually beyond our control, and we have to cope the best we can though the mechanisms provided by the court. Frankly, it can be extremely expensive and frustrating.
However, you can help to keep your fees and costs to the minimum for your case by following these simple rules:
1. Remember that talking to me on the phone is expensive. My time and skill in the law are all that I have with which to make a living, and I must charge for the time I spend on the telephone just as I charge for research, document drafting, and court appearances. Therefore, you can save yourself a great deal of money by not always asking to speak directly with me. As a general rule, discuss your needs first with my paralegal, my law clerk, or my accounts manager, or my front desk administrator. If legal advice or intervention is needed immediately, they are trained to recognize it and will bring it to my attention, as soon as possible. Furthermore, if I am in court or working on a research project, or otherwise unavailable at the time, a detailed message through my staff will get my attention a lot faster than simply asking me to call you back. Better yet, my assistant can often handle the problem right then and there. If you wish information on a court date, the status of service or filing of papers, or other similar information, they can help you as well as I can and at much less expense to you. My account manager can answer all of your billing questions, again at less expense to you. Finally, if you merely wish to leave some information such as an address, telephone number or some figures that I have requested, please leave the message with my staff or with the answering service if they are available.
2. Remember that I am trained as an attorney, not a counselor. Certainly, unless I understand the nature of your relationship with your spouse, I cannot represent you as well as I might. For that reason, I will spend some time with you exploring this interaction, especially toward the beginning of the case. From what you tell me, I may be able to point out some of the “games” that are being played and how to avoid being one of the players. A dissolution or other family law matter can be one of the most stressful times of a person’s life, and it is to your best legal interest that you cope with the stresses. If you are not thinking clearly, you may be inclined to make decisions on whether or how to settle the case that will be very expensive in the long run. However, at some particular point, I will have learned what I need to help you legally, and I will be giving you the best advice I can on how to cope with the legal and practical aspects of the case. From that point on, my listening to your non-legal experiences with your spouse, your spouse’s faults and other matters will usually appear on your monthly statement. Generally, this will be the case after the initial consultation or first court hearing.
3. Participate as effectively as you can in your own case. Your time is likely to be less expensive to you than mine, and you will certainly be more familiar with many of the details. Therefore you will probably wish to obtain and organize as much of the information and documents for your case as possible. For example, in a case involving child or spousal support, the required income and expense forms are long and complex and require extensive background information and documentation. Experience shows that if you use your best efforts to complete these forms and provide the information and documents before the appointment at which we will discuss them, you will save up to two hours at that appointment and will be able to most clearly and favorably present your evidence to the court. If my office has to do all the work involved in preparing these forms and organizing the information, your case will become more costly. If there is a delay in preparing and filing such documents, the other side could apply to the court for sanctions in the form of a money judgment against you, use the delay in answering as an excuse to postpone court dates, request that the court prevent you from having your evidence submitted, or invoke other penalties.