Hiring an attorney can be a daunting task, especially when you are challenged with limited financial resources. But, as set forth previously in this guide, you will always want to have good legal representation when there are significant stakes involved. Most family law attorneys will present their billing to you as an hourly rate and then want some money up front before they start to work on your case. (This is typically referred to as a “retainer"). Many, if not most, family law attorneys have what are called “nonrefundable retainers."
However, most attorneys with nonrefundable retainers will refund a portion of the money paid if they will not be performing the full scope of the agreed representation. You can expect a family attorney to charge anywhere from approximately $175.00 per hour to $300.00 per hour or more. Frequently, attorneys with more experience and higher profiles command more significant hourly rates. Furthermore, more experienced and more prolific attorneys typically seek higher initial retainers. But that does not mean that you cannot bargain with them or negotiate different methods of either paying the attorney’s initial retainer or even paying the retainer on a fixed, periodic timetable. Regardless, it is not unusual for most attorneys to seek $2,500.00 to $5,000.00 and more for initial retainers for a contested family law matter and you should be prepared to be presented with similar figures if your family law matter will require significant legal representation. For example, a contested divorce involving minor children in which both parents are seeking to have majority time-sharing can dictate that even the most easy-going attorney will want a larger initial retainer.
As I mentioned previously, the problem that is frequently created is when an individual needs an attorney for a significant family law matter but does not have an extra $5,000.00 in his or her checking account. Millions of people have been adversely affected by any number of economic events during the past 5 to 10 years. Unfortunately, although some attorneys have lowered their rates to reflect this new reality, not all of them are willing to completely disregard time-tested retainer requirements in favor of alternative payment plans. It is your job to be prepared with a plan to pay your attorney so that he or she will be willing to represent you even if you do not have the standard initial retainer that the attorney would typically ask for under the circumstances. When attorneys see that clients are thoughtful about their payment responsibilities and resourceful concerning funding an initial retainer, that attorney is MUCH more likely to enter into a fee arrangement with that client. You cannot simply speak with an attorney and then throw your hands up in the air because you don’t have a solution to your own cash-flow problem. To the contrary, you want to convince that attorney that despite the cash-flow problem, you will be an excellent paying client because (and then demonstrate your resourcefulness by explaining some of your ideas).
The bottom line is that you will likely have to come up with enough of an initial retainer plus propose making periodic payments on a debit card/credit card so that you can make payments once or twice per month as necessary. And then you will need to authorize the attorney to run your debit card on a regular basis for the prearranged amounts.
I understand that even getting together even an initial $1,500.00 or so can be very challenging in these times. If you have a credit card with some room, that might be just enough to get an initial retainer together. Otherwise, you should immediately consider raising funds by liquidating non-critical items in your life that you can quickly sell. Additionally, you should immediately consider contacting friends and relatives for financial assistance. I’m continually surprised by the support that extended family and friends provide for clients that are headed into a potentially stormy divorce. Once you’ve managed to figure out how to get together a reasonable sum that an attorney will consider for an initial retainer, you can consider how much you can afford to pay in connection with your periodic payment plan. Typically, people will structure payments so that they can be processed directly after they are paid once or twice per month, depending on how much they earn. While different attorneys have different requirements, I would not expect that many attorneys would accept much less than $300.00 total per month towards a periodic payment plan, with $500.00 monthly or more being more typical.
Without question, coming up with an extra $300 or more of “discretionary income" per month is very challenging for many people. But you have to remember that this is a temporary situation and that you need to have representation in order to keep it from becoming a permanent one. Sometimes, you have to make sacrifices like cutting back on cable/internet packages, dining out and other niceties to ensure that you have the best chance of realizing your legal objectives.
Attorneys want to help people that want to help themselves. If you come prepared to explain to an attorney how you will fulfill your payment obligations, there is a much better chance that you will not only be able to hire that attorney, but hire the attorney of your choice. Attorneys are slowly coming to accept the fact that they will need to be more flexible with their billing if they are going to grow and expand their practices.
Consider that you and your attorney’s relationship is tantamount to the formation of a small business or joint venture. It’s just a small business and it’s for a limited time and purpose, but it is very important. You want to find the absolute best person that you can for the job and one that you like to work with. So if you find yourself requiring the services of family law attorney, remember that, like with nearly everything else: hard work, perseverance and a little help from your friends can go a long ways towards helping you obtain great representation.
Do the work of putting together a payment proposal that you can shop around to other family law attorneys in advance. You will save the attorney and yourself time and aggravation. Be absolutely certain that you can honor a financial proposal that you are offering. There is nothing that will get you into disfavor more quickly with an attorney than if you miss a payment or are not completely honest with him or her.
I do not like to turn clients down for lack of financial resources and it is a very helpless feeling to not be able to justify representing someone. However, you can make it much easier for family law attorneys to be able to justify taking your case if you follow the steps that I’ve outlined, be creative and be resourceful. Not every family law attorney is impassioned with the desire to help children and families. Some see it only as a job. But I believe that the silent majority of family law attorneys enjoy their work, their clients and see both as a way to give back to the community and make better futures for their clients and their minor children.
It is my sincere desire that this guide helps you find a good family law attorney and that this results in a beneficial life changing result for you by virtue of your ability to retain one. And to my fellow attorneys who are out there and that have found the interest to read through this guide: pay it forward. Take a chance on a client who might be a risk, but a good risk.