Straight from the horse’s mouth! From a Judge who’s heard it all, here’s some priceless advice to help you avoid emotional turmoil, alienating family and friends, and spending unnecessary time and money litigating.
- Write down all of your questions and the things you want to tell your attorney ahead of time and have them with you when you meet with your attorney, phone your attorney, or email your attorney. Carry a notepad or journal around with you and jot down your questions when you think of them. If you have an iPhone, take full advantage of the Notes application and/or the Voice Memo application and record your questions and thoughts as soon as they come to mind. Taking this step will ensure that you won’t forget to tell your attorney important information and that you won’t forget to ask your attorney any questions; it will also help you to stick to the topics that you need to address. You and your attorney will get a lot more accomplished in less time, and that means less money out of your pocket.
- Make your emails to your attorney well-organized, concise and to the point. Doing so will help your attorney to better understand what you are trying to say or to ask, and it will also help your attorney respond to you more quickly than if you send a rambling email that is one long paragraph and asks 5 million different questions. Many attorneys do charge clients for reading and responding to emails. The easier they are to read and to understand, the less amount of time your attorney will need to spend reading and responding to them, and the lower your bill will be!
- If you are emailing your attorney with a question about a document, ATTACH a copy of that document to your email. Your attorney can then quickly look at that document and answer your question. Otherwise, you may be billed not only for reading and responding to the email, but also for pulling the file, locating the document, possibly copying the document, and then putting the file back in the filing cabinet. Doing this one simple step should also get you a more rapid response because your attorney is more likely to deal with your email immediately if he or she sees that it will not be necessary to pull your file and to locate the document.Email Tip: Send a copy of your emails to your attorney’s assistant. Doing so will lessen the chance that your email gets lost in your attorney’s overflowing inbox. You can always also call the office and alert your attorney’s assistant that you have sent an important email and you want to make sure that your attorney sees it.
- Hire a psychologist or a counselor. I always recommend that divorce clients and their children participate in counseling or psychotherapy during and after a divorce. It is necessary to help clients and their children deal with and heal from the destruction of that which they have held most dear: their family. You need to address your emotional issues and struggles with a psychologist or a counselor, who is trained to help you work through those specific issues. You need to let your lawyer focus on your legal issues, which is much easier for your lawyer to do when you are not relying on your lawyer to provide you with psychotherapy (which most of us are not licensed, trained, or qualified to do anyway). When you are interacting with your attorney, you and your attorney need to be primarily focused on the logistics of your case and the legal issues that are involved. In many instances a therapist charges less per hour than an attorney does anyway, and they usually end the therapy sessions in one hour and on time!
- When you have a question about your case, talk to the paralegal or legal assistant who works with your attorney first instead of going straight to your attorney. Depending on the fee agreement you have with your lawyer, you may or may not be charged to communicate with your attorney’s support staff, however, it will almost always be less expensive to funnel your questions and problems through the support staff. I have found that oftentimes when a client calls me with a question or a problem it takes 10 to 15 minutes to get all of the facts and to clarify what it is the client really wants and needs to know. It is extremely helpful to me for my legal assistant to obtain and sort through that information on the front end so that I can quickly and easily respond and provide the client with the answers he or she is seeking. Many times it results in me “no charging” the client for the time it takes me to answer his or her questions, as opposed to me billing them for a 20 or 30 minute phone call. Additionally, my staff member can record notes for the client’s file at no charge, further reducing the cost of that phone call for the client.
- Limit the frequency of your communications with your attorney. Some clients call and/or email their attorneys several times a day, nearly every day. This habit is not a problem if you are looking for a sure-fire way to increase your attorney fees. If you find you always have questions for your attorney popping into your mind, then please jot them down on a notepad or otherwise record them and make that call to your attorney only once per day.
- Conduct as much business as you can with your attorney over the phone or via email as opposed to meeting with your attorney in person. For some reason, face-to-face meetings almost always last longer and are more costly to the client than phone calls or emails addressing the same issues. It’s easier to stay on track and to end your conversations in a punctual manner when you are on the phone than it is when you are meeting in person.
- Take your attorney’s advice. I have had clients tell me, “Next time I will listen to you,” far too often. Simply following your attorney’s recommendations can save you many dollars and much heartache. If you don’t trust your attorney’s advice, please hire a different attorney!
- Narrow down your issues. If at all possible, communicate with your spouse and determine what issues the two of you can agree on, write those things down, and tell your attorney. Your attorney can then spend billable time dealing with your outstanding, unresolved issues. The fewer the disputed issues, the lower your bill.
- Be reasonable. Most divorces are ultimately settled out of Court. The goal in settling a lawsuit is for both parties to walk away with an agreement they can live with, not for both parties to get everything they want (that’s impossible). The alternative to being reasonable and reaching a tolerable agreement is to let a neutral third party, who doesn’t know you from Adam, intervene in your life and ORDER you and your spouse to do as he or she sees fit. Not only will you be taking a gamble which could result in an intolerable and unacceptable outcome for you, your attorney fees and expenses will increase exponentially.
One final note about the cost of your divorce, please keep in mind that every time your attorney goes to Court, there are usually, at the very least, several billable hours involved. Your attorney will have to prepare for the proceeding, travel to and from the proceeding, attend the proceeding, and conduct follow-up work. Oftentimes Court appearances are in the client’s best interest and/or they are unavoidable, and therefore it is necessary to incur those fees. There is not much that you can do about that fact. However, despite the fact that sometimes you cannot control the amount of your attorney fees, there are some steps that you can take to reduce your attorney fees, as I’ve outlined above. Try them. You will thank me later!