As a family law attorney, I typically deal with clients during some of the most trying moments of their lives, whether it be as a result of a pending divorce, restraining order, or custody battle. Many clients express that during these daunting moments in their life, the last thing they want to worry about is hiring an attorney and attorney fees.
However, one thing I have learned from my years in practice is that not hiring an attorney and trying to represent yourself first before hiring an attorney, can end up costing you more than what hiring an attorney would have cost had you hired one from the beginning of your case.
I also understand that for many people, hiring an attorney can be financially difficult for an array of reasons. The good news is that there are ways to be represented by an attorney and save on attorney fees by minimizing the fees incurred.
1. Your cooperation will save you money.
The more you cooperate with your attorney, the less money you will end up paying in fees. Although we are hired to assist you with your case, we cannot move forward on most things without your cooperation and approval.
For example, if you hire me to represent you in a motion to modify your custody orders, I will be tasked with drafting a declaration explaining to the judge what modifications you want and why. However, our office does not file a declaration without the client’s approval and signature. The issue becomes when a client disappears for days or weeks on end. This results in our office calling you, emailing you, texting you, or trying to contact you in any way possible. In some occasions, a client’s lack of cooperation can result in the client’s pending motion to be continued to a new date or emails to opposing counsel explaining that additional time is needed to meet a certain deadline, etc. Given that most attorneys work on an hourly basis, this results in a ripple effect that ends in incurring fees that could have been avoided if clients kept in communication with their attorney.
When I was younger, my mom always told me “For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned.” I never understood it and to be honest, it annoyed me when my mom said it.
Until one morning it clicked while searching for a shirt before work. It dawned on me that I had become accustomed to leaving my clothes in the dryer, rather than putting my clothes right away. I was taking at least 10 minutes looking for clothes each morning. I would check my closet first, then my drawers and then would remember that my clothes were still in the dryer. The same would happen the following day and the next. Talk about a waste of time.
As an attorney, I see this very same scenario play out in our cases. For example, if you as a client have hired us to assist you with responding to discovery, which requires you to produce documents to the opposing side, the first step I take is to meet with you, outline the documents needed, and request for you to provide me with the documents. Some documents will require for our office to redact sensitive or private information. Some requests for discovery will involve hundreds upon hundreds of documents that will need to be organized and reviewed by me prior to production. The issue begins when a client does not provide me with the documents needed in an organized fashion, but instead sends documents with missing pages, illegible documents which make it hard to decipher what the documents are, or do not provide me with the documents at all. On these occasions, the attorney spends additional time trying to figure out what document belongs to which request, organizing documents or determining what pages are missing and why. On other occasions, the client does not provide the attorney with the required information or documents, which results in an incomplete response to the opposing side. The opposing side then follows up with the attorney with a “meet and confer letter” asking for the missing documents. The attorney then has to respond to the letter, meet with the client again, resulting in work that could have been avoided if the documents were complete and organized to begin with.
On the other hand, if clients work with their attorney to be organized, time spent responding to discovery decreases substantially, in turn saving you money. Why? Because as the other cheesy saying goes “time is money.”
It is understandable that with the stress that comes with being involved in a legal proceeding, gathering information and documents may be annoying and time consuming. However, if clients are able to work with their attorney as a team and organize as much as possible, for every minute spent organizing, the client earns an hour of time, resulting in less fees.
3. Being open to negotiations.
Believe it or not, often, negotiating with the opposing side can save you hundreds, if not thousands in attorney fees.
In my experience, this suggestion can be a tough one to sell to a client because at first glance, your attorney’s mere suggestion that it would be prudent for you to attempt settlement of your case with the other side may seem like your attorney is not advocating for you. Believe me when I tell you that before even making this suggestion to a client, as an attorney, I will have made the analysis of the possible outcomes if your issues go in front a judge. If the outcome that is likely to occur can be achieved through negotiations, your attorney fees decrease because you are able to get to a particular outcome without litigation. As much as I enjoy litigating and stepping into a courtroom, I have learned that litigation can prove to be expensive.
One way we assist clients in deciding if negotiation is the best route for them is by providing clients with a budget. With a budget, a client is able to see what each option costs, allowing a client to make an informed decision before deciding if negotiating is the best option for them.
4. Ghosting the case.
One great option for saving on attorney fees is requesting for your attorney to “ghost the case.” This means that your attorney would assist you in the background with drafting the required forms, declarations, and paperwork in your case, but would not appear as the attorney of record in court pleadings, would not communicate with opposing counsel or attend hearings on your behalf.
This option allows you to file paperwork with the assurance that it is being filled-out properly, but without the additional expense that comes having an attorney of record. Often, we get clients who have had paperwork filled out by paralegals or individuals claiming to know how to complete court documents. But unfortunately, the paperwork is more often than not, done incorrectly resulting in consequences such as paying more in support, not obtaining the maximum amount of support, or delays. Some documents require careful legal analysis and involve more than just checking off a box. Opting for your attorney to “ghost” your case will put your mind at ease, as you will know the paperwork is being completed with careful legal analysis, conforming to state and local court rules, without having to incur fees of traditional representation by an attorney.
It is important to note that not all options fit every case. To discuss options more specifically tailored to your case and budget, we can assist you with this too.
By: Gisela Acevedo, Esq., Attorney at Contreras Law Firm