It surprises me how many phone calls I receive from potential clients whose first question is, ‘what is your hourly rate?’ While I appreciate that legal help is not inexpensive, my experience is that receiving advice from a qualified professional is invaluable.
My tax professional charges a similar rate to an attorney. While she is not the least expensive accountant, she has saved me thousands of dollars.
Remember when you are speaking with a family law attorney for the first time, you are in fact interviewing each other to see if it is a good fit. Money should not be the only criteria in your hiring decision. Rather than start by asking an attorney’s hourly rate, you need the answers to the following questions first:
- Expertise. Does the attorney you are interviewing have solid credentials? Is he or she certified as a Specialist by the State Bar? Does family law comprise 100 percent of his or her practice, or does he or she practice in several other areas of the law as well? Does the attorney have other degrees, such an MBA, a master’s degree in taxation or a financial credential? While well-credentialed, experienced attorneys invariably charge more than those who are not, the quality of the advice received is often vastly different. As with my tax accountant, paying for good advice can translate into thousands of dollars saved. Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish.
- Philosophy. Attorneys are people too! Some are more aggressive, some are more passive. How often does the attorney you are speaking with litigate? Is he or she trained in Mediation? Is he or she trained in the Collaborative process? When presented with a problem, would this attorney suggest filing a $5,000 motion with the court, or would he or she first pick up the phone and call opposing counsel or write a letter to try to solve the problem? Certainly at times it is necessary to litigate, but litigation is usually the most contentious and expensive route to take to solve a problem.
- Chemistry. Your family attorney is someone who you are going to be ‘living with’ for a period of time. Do you communicate well with this person? Does your attorney understand your concerns and suggest solutions with which you are comfortable? Is your attorney able to explain the legal issues to you in plain English? Having a certain amount of chemistry is necessary in order to create a feeling of trust that this person is acting in your best interest.
- Comparison Shop. Quite a bit of information can be found on an attorney’s website. Even more information can be gained through a personal interview. While many attorneys charge for a consultation, it is money well spent. You will gain a sense of who this person is, the type of office in which he or she works and most important, you will be able to assess whether the hourly rate quoted is a good value. You should also receive an initial professional opinion about your case. See at least two attorneys. Remember that consulting with an attorney does not obligate you to hire that person.
- Billing Practices. Should you decide to consult with an attorney, ask about his or her billing practices. Exactly what does he or she charge for? Does staff complete some of the work? Staff work costs less money per hour than the lead attorney. You should receive a retainer agreement from an attorney you are considering hiring. Unless you have an emergency situation, take a day to read that agreement and be sure you understand the services provided and how they are charged. If you do not, do not hesitate to ask questions. Attorneys vary more than you might think on how they charge for services and the services that they provide.
Selecting the right attorney to represent or consult with you can make all the difference in the experience you have during dissolution or other matters, the amount you spend in legal fees and in the outcome of your case. Unless you have an emergency situation, take the time to make a well-considered hiring decision.