The fee varies with the services you require. If yours is a contested case for which an hourly rate is typically charged, the fee is based on the rate set in the retainer agreement you sign with your attorney. Specific amounts are charged in six (6) minute units (minimum 1/10 of an hour). This “minimum amount” comes from the fact that in order to stop doing one thing, attend to your issue, make a record of that activity, and then return to where we were in the other case, that usually takes at least 6 minutes.
Billable time includes telephone or in-office conferences, negotiations, drafting correspondence and agreements, drafting responses to counter-pleadings, scheduling hearings and court appearance.
A basic no-fault, uncontested divorce “fixed fee” includes the initial conference; the preparation and filing of the “Complaint”; arranging for the appropriate documents to be served on your spouse; and preparing and submitting the final decree of divorce to the court.
Additional time may be required in your “fixed fee” case that is not contemplated in the initial fee quote. For example, your spouse may decide to contest the divorce, or ask for spousal support or child custody, or for a different property division when you thought (and advised us) that these matters were resolved. Additional services beyond those contemplated in the immediately preceding paragraph will be billed to you at our standard hourly rate.
If there is a trial, the judge can order one spouse to pay some of the other spouse’s attorney’s fees. The judge will rarely order payment of the full amount. As my client, you are responsible for paying the agreed fees, and I will give you full credit for any payments made by your spouse. You have probably heard of divorces in which the attorney representing the wife promises to collect the attorney’s fees from the husband. This creates a conflict of interest between the attorney and his client, as the attorney might be tempted to compromise the wife’s rights in other areas to protect his fee, and it is strictly prohibited. If it appears in your best interest, we will negotiate and argue for your attorney’s fees; however, our focus will be on the total picture. Any discussion about the total cost of a divorce is only an estimate. Because we do not have control over many things such as what your spouse’s attorney may or may not do, we cannot tell you how much time your case will require (or how much it will cost). We are always sensitive to the amounts that we are charging to you, but the amount of time necessary to properly prepare for your case is really not within our control. (The amount of time we actually spend on your case can be limited by you and controlled by us, but the amount of time we need to devote to your case is quite another matter. Often, it is a matter of judgment.)
We require a retainer to accept your case and to begin drawing up the necessary papers. The retainer is placed in a trust account and drawn upon only as fees are earned. We are not in a position to undertake any case for less than the agreed upon retainer. We want to be your well-focused attorney, and don’t operate quite so well if we are also your creditor. If the fees charged as we proceed with your case exceed the retainer (and eventually they might), we will expect that the fees will be promptly paid. We will not drop you as a client just because you owe us money, but do expect that a good faith arrangement will be made by you to see that the balance is attended to.
If you interview the attorney and decide not to retain the firm, you will only be charged for the office conference. If you retain the firm, we will sign a contract setting out the terms of representation in writing. Hopefully then there will be no billing surprises.