by Samuel K. Darling, divorce attorney in Washington State
The following are five tips on how to keep your divorce attorney’s fees low:
1) Combine Communications. Rather than calling (or emailing) your attorney five times with five separate questions, call him or her once with all five questions. Combining communications can save more money than you might think–it seems to reduce these types of fees by as much as 50%. You might set a goal of communicating with your attorney no more than once a week on non-emergency matters.
2) Know When to Call vs Email. Before calling or emailing your attorney, think about which form of communication—phone or email—would be most efficient for the topic. Call if you anticipate the topic will require back-and-forth exchanges with your attorney. Otherwise use email.
Writing emails with several follow-up questions and answers reduces efficiency, because you and your attorney spend extra time transitioning to and from the conversation. Phone conversations work much better for those types of topics. Email, on the other hand, works great when a single response will suffice.
3) Do Homework Well. We divorce lawyers often give clients tasks to perform, which we affectionately refer to as homework. You can save quite a bit of money by doing your homework well. For example:
- Gathering Witness Declarations. Your attorney will usually ask you to gather declarations from witnesses. If you don’t gather the necessary declarations, your attorney might end up doing it for you. Gathering a single declaration can take your attorney a few hours. That adds up pretty quickly.
- Answering Interrogatories. Your attorney will probably ask you to write draft answers to interrogatories. Interrogatories are essentially essay questions about your life, and they MUST BE ANSWERED. Again, if you don’t do a good job on your answers, your attorney will often spend numerous extra hours researching and writing better ones for you. Or worse, your attorney might spend tens of hours litigating your inadequate interrogatory answers.
4) Be Reasonable. Bad news: the harder your attorney fights for you, the more expensive it gets. Chances are your attorney will be more than happy to zealously litigate on your behalf—it’s how attorneys get paid. But it’s also how money leaves your wallet. Pick your battles carefully if you want to save on attorney fees.
5) Unbundled Representation. It’s possible for your attorney to represent you on parts of your divorce case but not all of it. This is called unbundled representation. Before using unbundled legal services, you should talk with your attorney about whether this option is advisable for you. It isn’t suitable for some, such as those with a lot to risk or those who have difficulty communicating.
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