Many times, people involved in a matrimonial dispute are faced with their first real experience using a lawyer. When they receive their first bill, they are sometimes shocked, and frightened, by the financial cost of the dispute, especially in “high conflict” cases. Below are some tips to help you manage your legal costs.
First, you must remember that every time your lawyer works on your file, you are billed for the lawyer’s time – no matter whether you send a one line email or leave a three minute voicemail message. It is important to manage your communications with your lawyer to optimize your spending. Rather than calling and emailing your lawyer several times a day whenever something occurs to you that you need to communicate to someone, ask yourself if it is an emergency that your lawyer needs to know about right away. If it is not, keep a journal, and send one email per day or every few days. This keeps your lawyer apprised of your situation, but in a more cost effective manner.
Second, it is important to remember that a separation is a very emotional and stressful time in your life, and it is perfectly understandable that you want to talk to someone about it. It may be hard to talk to your friends, and you may be tempted to turn to your lawyer to fill that role. Don’t forget, your lawyer charges you by the six minute increments, so this could be very expensive.
Third, when your lawyer gives you advice, you must trust that they are doing so with your best interests always at the forefront. You are always entitled to an explanation from your lawyer about their advice. If you doubt the advice that you receive from your lawyer, you can always seek a second opinion. However, arguing with your lawyer about his or her advice will only cost you money and may make it difficult for your lawyer to help you.
Fourth, you must remember that your lawyer acts on your instructions. If your lawyer tells you that you are being unreasonable, that is their advice, which is what you are paying for. However, if you insist on your lawyer taking an unreasonable position, you should expect that will be very expensive for you. You may make your case more complicated that in needs to be. A judge or arbitrator may order you to pay your spouse’s legal bills if you are unreasonable. Taking unreasonable positions is one of the fastest ways to drive your legal bills through the roof.
Finally, when you and your lawyer first meet to discuss your case, your lawyer crafts a strategy to move your matter forward in the fastest, most cost efficient manner. Sometimes, that means going to mediation/arbitration or some other form of alternate dispute resolution, and sometimes that means Court. Whatever strategy you and your lawyer choose, your lawyer will maintain that strategy in their communication with your spouse’s lawyer. Sometimes, sending several letters a week to the other lawyer does not generate a response, as the other lawyer becomes inundated with your lawyer’s communication. Other times, the other lawyer becomes frustrated with your lawyer, and starts a letter-writing campaign in response. This will only serve to escalate your legal bills and will never make things happen faster. You should take your lawyer’s advice with respect to how often and about what issues correspondence should be sent to another lawyer or your former spouse.
If you follow the above tips, then you should be able to keep the cost of your divorce low. However, even if you follow all of the above advice, your spouse may act in way that drives up your legal bills. Everyone is entitled to a day in court, and so is your spouse, even if his or her position makes no sense. All you can hope is that the judge or arbitrator will make your spouse pay some of your fees back. You should talk to your lawyer about how much each step of your case is going to cost and whether it is worth it.