Top 5 Tips to Minimize your Divorce Attorney's Fees & Costs.
One of the most frequent questions clients ask is: "How much will this cost?" Unfortunately, divorces are variable and costs fluctuate. However, there are a number of proactive steps clients can take to help ensure they keep their attorney's fees and costs to a minimum. Here's the insider's tips:
Be Prepared & Organized.Probably the best way to decrease your legal expenses is to be extremely well-organized. Always have your complete documentation in chronological order. Be sure to tab or notate the documents so it's easier for the attorney or paralegal to find what you're providing them. This is especially true if you're meeting with an attorney for the first time and pleadings or orders have already been filed in the case; or, if you are retaining an attorney for a post-decree issue and your new attorney requires your old file.
Colorado also requires mandatory disclosure of most financial records in the dissolution of marriage context. When gathering your mandatory C.R.C.P. Rule 16.2 financial disclosures, be sure to have complete redecoration, all documents organized chronologically, and ensure you have provided everything required pursuant to Form 35.1. Often times, clients produce partial and unorganized disclosures, which costs more in paralegal and attorney's fees to organize the documents, review the documents, and make requests to the client to furnish the remaining disclosures. Review your Sworn Financial Statement (SFS). If there's an asset or debt listed on your SFS, there's a good chance you will need to produce the corresponding documentation.
Utilize the Paralegal and Legal Assistants as Often as Possible.Paralegals are there to assist in your case, often at a far lower hourly rate compared to your attorney. While paralegals cannot give you legal advice, the paralegal can be the point person for your legal issue, questions, or concerns. Paralegals are often charged with drafting initial documents, calendaring meetings and court appearances, communicating with clients, and organizing your file. Ergo, paralegals are your friend. One should utilize a paralegal anytime they're able to help rather than direct contact with your attorney, which saves you money due to the lower hourly rate. Also, if you're having trouble reaching your lawyer it may be because they are unavailable in court on another matter. Calling or emailing the paralegal who is almost always available will save you money from calling and leaving multiple voicemail messages for your lawyer who will have to charge you for their time listening to them, and won't be able to immediately return your call anyway. Do you have a question as to whether something has been filed with the Court? Need directions to the Courthouse? Want to reschedule your next meeting? For these concerns and the like go through the paralegal first, not the attorney.
Communicate Succinctly & Intelligently.Clients are often tempted to spend an inordinate amount of time disparage the opposing party, or discussing issues that occurred years prior to the filing of the dissolution, which are frequently irrelevant to the case at bar. Keep in mind Colorado is a no-fault state and a lawyer probably isn't interested in hearing about incidents of cheating, affairs, or other marital misconduct. Do not fall into this trap. Rather, quickly get to the point and be judicial with your direct communications with the attorney. Do not worry about covering every detail imaginable, the attorney you hired for their legal knowledge and advice can always ask you more questions to clarify if necessary. In fact, it is best to do less of the talking as the attorney will know what is pertinent and will know the correct questions to ask the client to obtain the relevant information. As a client, it's important to understand what is legally relevant is often times very different from what is emotionally relevant to the client.
Finally, if you're not having face-to-face communications with your lawyer, remember to limit the number of contacts you make. Domestic relations matters are billed by the hour. Thus, if you send 5-6 emails a day, or make multiple phone calls to your lawyer in a single day, your invoice is going to balloon fast. You will be tempted to do this given the emotionally charged nature of your case. However, you would be prudent to organize your thoughts in advance and make a more comprehensive list of issues to all be included in a single correspondence rather than multiple brief messages throughout the day. To avoid this snag, keep a running notepad and write down all the questions you have or things that you want to tell the legal professional. Once the issues are organized, convey them all in one email, phone call, or meeting with your attorney. It takes a legal professional a lot less time to read one long email than numerous short ones throughout the day. This is one of the easiest ways to lower your legal fees that many clients never consider. Lastly, prior to cold-calling your lawyer, you should speak with the paralegal with a description of the topics to be discussed and set a phone conference. That way, you can be sure to reach your attorney at a specific time and they will be better prepared to answer your questions in prompt fashion.
Utilize the Power of Self-Reflection.Parties experiencing the hardships of divorce often forget this important principle due to the stress and emotional harm incurred during the process. Before contacting your attorney ask yourself some important introspective questions: (i) Is this an emergency, which requires my lawyer's immediate attention?; (ii) Is what I want to discuss with my lawyer relevant to the legal issues in my case?; and (iii) Am I being reasonable?
If one party in the divorce acts unreasonable that behavior unfortunately typically spreads and the other party feels a need to be petty in response. This is especially true when it comes to property division. Before you argue over pots and pans, or that 10-year old television you love so much, think about how much you will spend in attorney's fees on those items and whether you could use those monies to simply buy something new. Always keep in mind what your priorities are in the case, which for most people is: the children's best interests, the division of major assets and debts, and child support and/or spousal maintenance.
Choose your Attorney Wisely.Do your homework prior to retaining a lawyer. It's important to vet a legal professional before spending money on same, especially if your children and assets will be at issue in the case. You will want to ask your prospective attorney how often they litigate and what percentage of their cases settle. If your prospective lawyer is constantly in Court that may be a red flag. Finally, take time to carefully review the Contract for Legal Services and Fee Agreement before executing same. It's important to know what the lawyer will charge for, and how they charge for their respective services and overhead costs as it varies at each firm.