Legal Fees FAQ
I get asked about legal fees every day. How much will a divorce cost? Can I pay in
installments? Do you offer free consultations? With the amount of people asking the same questions, I decided to make a list of answers to some of the most common questions I am asked. This is all only based on my own experience after years of working in family law, and each law firm will have their own practices and policies.
1) Consultations for family law matters are almost never free. I do not offer free consultations. For issues like traffic tickets or personal injury, usually a lawyer can quickly evaluate the case and know with some certainty the amount of time the case will take and how it will play out. With divorce, custody, child support and other family matters, that’s really just not possible. The point of a consultation for family matters is for the lawyer to gather a large amount of information, glean from all of that that the legally significant parts, determine the person’s legal rights and obligations, evaluate their options and explain all of this as thoroughly as possible. This all takes at least an hour, and often longer. Also, for me it’s the only chance I have to decide whether or not I want to represent that particular person.
2) A good rule of thumb is to expect a divorce to cost about as much as a wedding. The same goes for custody and child support. That’s just the reality. In marriage, two separate lives become totally entwined together. Divorce requires you to unravel all those threads to separate the two lives again. It takes time and work to do that. Separation agreements can certainly save you a lot of money, but you should still expect a negotiated agreement to cost you at least $3,500 and more likely $5,000 and up. Generally speaking, it takes a lot of time, meetings, telephone conferences, negotiating and working to get an agreement in place.
3) Legal bills will probably always make you angry. Seriously, those bills are awful. There is a (long) series of little descriptions of work done, often with cryptic abbreviations (for example: PC w/ OC = Phone Call with Opposing Counsel). Billing is almost universally done in one-tenth of an hour increments with 0.1 being 6 minutes (0.5 = 30 min.) so each line has a decimal point for the time spent. Then of course there is a charge at the end of each line. At the bottom, probably two or three pages later, the total is always surprising. See #2 above. I actually try to mention this point to new clients within our first few meetings.
4) People often ask if they can pay in installments instead of a lump sum flat fee or an advanced deposit to my trust account. I totally understand where they’re coming from. Coming up with $3,000-$5,000 at once is hard for anybody. It’s certainly hard for me. But the reality is, I just can’t operate that way. For me, financing a person’s legal fees that way means loaning him or her my own money at a 0% interest rate and sacrificing time I could be spending working on matters where a client has paid for my services. I just can’t afford it.
5) I also can’t work on a contingency fee. A contingency fee is a setup where you only pay the attorney if he or she is able to recover money in your case. Usually this ranges from 25% of the recovered amount for non-litigated issues to 33% and up for matters in court. However, I can’t work on a contingency fee basis because it is actually illegal for most family law matters in North Carolina.
Legal fees are an often frustrating but always necessary part of the process. If you have any questions about legal fees, consultations, or anything else I have written, please don’t hesitate to contact me at Hinson Family Law. Thanks for reading!