For the more than 26 years that I have been representing divorce clients, I still have trouble answering this question. Many times your attorney’s fees depend on your spouse and his or her attorney. With that said, it is just too easy for attorneys to leave the cost factor to the other side. Although as difficult as it may be sometimes, there are ways to get the other side to move, respond and cooperate. Also, there are many things a client can do to help keep down their legal fees. Below are a Seven ways to keep down your legal expenses.
First, Don’t wait for the other side to volunteer information. If the other side is the side with the most money, i.e. income, assets, etc., they will not quickly provide documentation to you becasue it means that you are going to talk half of it. This means that your attorney must be proactive and aggressively seek the necessary information. If the other side doesn’t cooperate then immediately ask the court to order them to provide the information. Although your spouse or his or her lawyer may not respond to a lawyer they always respond to a judge’s order.
Second, Gather information with respect to the value of your assets and debts instead of having your lawyer gather the information. Make sure that you work with your lawyer to find out exactly what information is necessary to assess the total marital estate, i.e. all asset values and all debt amounts. You can contact the bank and get the mortgage balance and the payoff amounts on your automobile loans. You can go on line and get the blue book value of your vehicle as well as your spouse’s vehicles. You can do the same for boats, ATV’s, snowmobiles, etc. The sources for the information used by your lawyer is often times easily accessible to you. Of course, please make sure that you know exactly what your lawyer wants before doing the research.
Third, You can get the tax returns easier and for less money than your attorney. Either you have copies or you can contact the accountant, IRS or Wisconsin Department of Revenue for your returns. Again, if your attorney needs your tax returns then volunteer to get the information on your own.
Fourth, Instead of calling with every question write down your questions and call once a week instead of every day. Please remember that lawyers bill by the hour so that every time you call or email and your lawyer reviews and responds you will be billed. Of course, choose a law firm that utilizes paralegals and legal assistants as often times these people charge much less than your lawyer and often times either know the answer to your question or will make sure they get the answer. Of course, if there is an emergency or question only your lawyer can answer then immediately contact your lawyer. However, many times the questions are not emergency and can wait and by answering multiple questions in one conversation you will save money.
Fifth, Listen to your lawyer. Hopefully, your hired an attorney that you trust and respect. If not, get a different lawyer. If you trust and respect your lawyer then listen to your lawyer’s advice. Of course, it is your divorce; however, your lawyer has much more knowledge of the law and experience with how judges decide certain issues than you. After all, isn’t that why you hired a professional? Demanding results that are contrary to the law or the facts of your case will substantially increase your legal expenses and your frustration with the system.
Sixth, Hire an attorney that knows what they are doing. A lawyer who is not accustom to trying cases or is afraid of addressing difficult issues or does not have the experience that is required of your divorce will end up costing you much more money in legal expenses, increase your frustration level and give you poor results.
Seventh, Don’t fight over the poster. Part of the property division in a divorce includes personal property. This means televisions, furniture, fishing and hunting equipment and, yes, kitchen utensils and appliances including toasters. Either work with your spouse to agree that you divide the personal property equally or have the personal property appraised. Generally, a personal property appraisal can cost a few hundred dollars and determines the fair market value of the property. This appraised value is generally the value that will be considered in your divorce if it is contested. It makes no sense to pay two attorneys to fight over the value of personal property when an appraisal can quickly and inexpensively answer the question. Many times, you can get the other side to agree to share in the cost of the appraisal and agree that whatever the appraiser concludes is the fair market value. Of course, if you have little personal property save the time and money and divide it up with your spouse without the need of appraisers or your attorneys.
These are a Seven ways in which you could work with your attorney to keep your expenses at a minimum. Remember to work with your attorney early on to determine what is most important to you and then focus on achieving that goal and save time, money and anxiety by not fighting over the things that are least important. If you, a loved one, friend or family member need to services of an experienced family law attorney please contact me for a no cost, no obligation initial consultation.