Keeping Legal Costs Down: Part 2 – Working With Your Attorney

Anyone experiencing the turmoil of litigation and divorce, knows that the financial toll of attorney’s fees can be a significant concern. Knowing what you can do to keep costs under control can make the experience a little less unpleasant. Where do you start? The following discusses some of the considerations you will face and how you may want to navigate those choices.

How Often Do I Contact My Attorney? Clients need to be able to contact their attorney when they have questions, concerns or require updates for issues that arise. For most attorneys, every contact with a Client is billed at the attorney’s rate for the period of time specified. For the attorney’s support staff, the Client contacts are billed at their rate for the specified period of time. So, every time a Client calls on the phone to the attorney’s office—there is a charge to the Client. Every e-mail sent by the Client to the attorney or staff will also result in a charge. The Client will and should hold the attorney responsible for the information contained in the e-mail and their reply. Therefore, a charge for the attorney’s time (or for the support staff time, if that is who replies) should be anticipated. In this age of instant e-mail and demands for instant replies—every-time an issue arises—costs can increase rapidly. Some Clients send multiple e-mails throughout the day—everyday. This results in a Client’s retainer being depleted very quickly. Unfortunately, e-mail has its limits and attempts to hold conversations—where questions are posed based on prior statements—can result in many, many e-mails back and forth—all at a significant cost to the Client.

Keeping Your Lawyer Fees DownTo help decrease costs, this attorney recommends to Clients: write down and compile your questions, when possible, so you can set time with the attorney (in person or by phone) to discuss ALL your questions thoroughly. Often the answer to one question or issue, influences or changes the answer to another. Nuance and suggestion—which are often part of discussing options and strategies– are lost in e-mail, yet may be important to the discussion of options available to the Client. Of course, there are urgent issues that arise and require an instant answer. Sometimes that means e-mail; better yet, pick up the phone and call your attorney. Then, you know you are being heard and nothing is being left to imagination.

Producing Documents to Your Attorney: Another way to decrease costs is to provide to the attorney all of the documents they request at one time. During the divorce process, each Party has to disclose the assets and debts to the other. This results in many documents (proof of the assets and debts) having to be sent by the Client to the attorney—so the attorney can record the documents and compile them and disclose them according to the Court procedures. If the Client gathers everything together and discloses it to their attorney at one time, the attorney can—at one time—turn their attention to the documents and get them processed. This allows the attorney’s or support staff’s attention and efforts to be concentrated and streamlined on the one task, all with the goal of disclosing the documents to the opposing party and filing the proof of completion with the Court.

If, however, the Client delivers the documents–by e-mail or regular mail or drops them off—over a series of days or weeks, this causes the attorney and support staff to: drop what they are doing, pick up the documents, access the file, determine how those documents fit into the big picture of disclosures already received and process (save to computer file, print for physical file, notate for the Certificate of Compliance, etc.) the limited number of documents at that time—only to have to go through the process all over again, when more documents trickle in.

In summary, here are two tried and true ways to help decrease your attorney’s fees and costs:

When possible, save up questions and information until you can discuss it all with your attorney at one time—rather than sending daily e-mails that require the attorney’s attention and/or response; and

When possible, produce requested documents all at one time, to prevent the attorney and support staff from having to revisit the same issues and procedures for processing documents multiple times.