Buyer Beware! This well know consumer phrase is all too approriate in the legal business. This guide is a quick summary for family law clients of some of the more common tricks used by family law attorneys to separate the client from their life savings.
Super attorneys who do it all
Many attorneys market themselves as family law attorneys; however, they also handle bankruptcy, personal injury, business law, probate, real estate, or just about any area of expertise you can need help with. If you have cash, these “jack of all trades” lawyers claim they can help. Remember, there are no minimum standards for advertising for lawyers, or anyone else who pays money to promote themselves. Attorneys are free to represent clients with any type of legal matter regardless of their experience. Be cautious about an attorney that claims to handle all types of cases and clients.
Cost is a major concern for almost all dissolution clients. Watch out for the attorney who charges an hour for a letter that actually took only twenty minutes. The hourly rate an attorney charges is important, but it can quickly become meaningless if the lawyer over-bills you for his actual time.
Look for an attorney who will approach your case conservatively. Meaning, that they don’t send out expensive and burdensome discovery requests such as Interrogatories and Document Production Demands unless it is warranted; and the opposing counsel will not provide the information voluntarily. They don’t take depositions unless warranted and needed. Regrettably, once some family law attorneys become familiar with your net worth, they plan a course and path for your case that will deplete you of an amount that they feel they can get away with without too much complaining by you.
Some divorce attorneys might suggest to a female client that they are at risk of losing custody of their children if they don’t fight during the divorce. “Fight’ means spend thousands needlessly on legal fees even though there is no real custody or visitation dispute. Nothing motivates parents more than the fear of losing their kids and some divorce lawyers prey upon this fear.
Some divorce attorneys might suggest to a client that they should not be overly concerned with the large and rapidly growing amount of unpaid attorneys fees that are accumulating, because at the end of the divorce the attorney will be asking the court to order the other party to pay those fees. The fees are discussed almost as if they were a growing sanction to the other party and might help to teach the other party a little lesson. However, the fees become very real and meaningful when the court orders each party to pay their own fees and costs. By this time, it’s too late to minimize the fees and the lawyer often has a lien in place on your marital assets that you agreed to in your original attorney-client fee agreement which you probably didn’t read.
Too many cases
Did you even wonder where the attorney goes after he greets his clients in the hallway at the courthouse and then runs off somewhere? The attorney usually goes to greet another client in another courtroom. After an hour or so the attorney returns to the first client and handles the court appearance. But the lawyer bills both of clients for an hour instead of billing each client only thirty minutes, and apologizing to each client for wasting thirty minutes of their time because he was too busy that day.
Why do those divorce attorneys spend so long in the conference room together? And why do they spend so long in mediation together? And why do they talk so long on the phone when they are speaking to opposing counsel? Because the client is paying them by the hour. Look for an attorney who will not run the meter on his clients.
Some divorce attorneys will often set the case on a path towards trial. Although the attorney has little intention of actually proceeding to trial, they run up huge legal fees working on trial preparation until miraculously the case settles just a few days before trial after thousands of dollars have been spent on trial preparation. If the attorney had sent out a reasonable settlement offer the case could have been resolved long before trial preparations began - and the attorney knows this lucrative fact.
Who did the work
Family law attorneys almost always have an assistant or paralegal. But the billing rate for the assistant is much less than the billing rate for the attorney. So who did the actual work is almost always the question. Experienced legal assistants and paralegals can produce excellent documents and declarations to be used in family court. The issue is being billed at the attorney rate for the work not done by the attorney.
There are so many tricks of the trade in the divorce business. Finding the right attorney is critical to reaching a fair and amicable resolution without giving away your life savings to the lawyers.