Is your divorce lawyer overcharging you? How would you know? This is a great guest post by divorce attorney, Joshua Stern, who offers advice on ensuring you’re getting the most from your divorce attorney at reasonable, fair rates.
How Do I Know If My Divorce Lawyer Is Overcharging Me? by Joshua Stern
When embarking on the divorce process, chances are you will not be overly trusting of the person you are divorcing, if at all. Feeling this way is understandable, especially if your divorce is acrimonious, and one of the many reasons why you hire a divorce attorney in the first place.
Though you might not want to think about or even acknowledge it, not every divorce lawyer behaves ethically, which means you need to be aware not only of your spouse’s actions, but of those of your counsel. One of the primary ways disreputable divorce lawyers take advantage of unsuspecting clients is by overcharging them.
Even if your divorce lawyer is honest about his or her billing practices, overcharging can still occur either as a result of human error or miscommunication. To safeguard your assets and your wallet, there are ways to ensure that you get what you pay for.
1. Compare. If possible, find out what your spouse is paying, either by talking to him or her or reviewing bank statements you can still access. If two attorneys are doing relatively similar work and have the same or similar hourly rates, the bills should be comparable. If the bills are not, it is important to figure out what is accounting for the differential.
2. Review. Your attorney should invoice you on a regular basis, either monthly or bi-monthly, so you can monitor your spending before it gets out of hand. Whenever a bill arrives, take a few moments to look it over and answer the following questions:
*Is the work being performed necessary? Your bill should have line items so that you know what the charges are for and why. More than that, you should understand the relevance of the work to your case. If you have any concerns, voice them.
*Is your attorney charging his or her billable rate for secretarial or paralegal services? An attorney’s billable rate should not be the same as that of a paralegal or secretary. In firms with more than one lawyer, billable rates can vary among attorneys according to experience, years in the practice, and their book of business.
*Are the charges for work that helps resolve your case? If the lawyer is devoting time to an issue that you do not care about, speak up. The idea is for your attorney to allocate his or her time according to priority, keeping the end game in mind – your freedom.
3. Analyze. A divorce can become quite costly if you are not careful. Just as you would set a budget for household expenses, clothing, a vacation, or anything else for that matter, so, too, can you set one for your divorce. After you do, do not hesitate to analyze with your attorney the cost and benefit of specific legal maneuvers and tactics. The idea is not to continue throwing good money after bad.
4. Assess. You and your attorney should have established goals early on in your case. What is it that you are trying to achieve? If a settlement is what you are after, but your attorney is filing motion after motion to ramp up tension and is always pushing litigation, it may be time to rein him or her in a bit. Your attorney’s strategy should be in line with your case.
5. Recap. A well-run divorce progresses through distinct stages. If your divorce has stalled, ask your lawyer to recap where there are still sticking points and why you are not moving forward. Can your attorney explain what the unresolved issues are, what the other side’s position is, and why the two of you cannot agree? While litigation can be expensive for you, it can also be lucrative for your lawyer. If an attorney cannot succinctly explain why you and your spouse are fighting, he or she may be the problem, making your existing problems bigger.
Joshua E. Stern is the founder and managing partner of The Law Offices of Joshua E. Stern, a boutique law firm located in Evanston and Chicago, specializing in matrimonial and family law. Joshua believes family law can be more efficient, transparent, and family-focused.