How can I keep my legal bills under control?

Sitting down and talking to your divorce lawyer can help paint you a picture of how much your divorce will cost, and what you can do to lower that.

By Lizanne J. Ceconi
July 12, 2006
NJ FAQ/Financial Issues

The key to managing your legal bills is organization and participation.  As the client, you should be part of the team putting together your case. Since most matrimonial fees are billed based on the time spent, a client who is efficient and prepared can help reduce costs.

The first rule is that you should only call your divorce attorney to discuss legal matters concerning the case. Too often, clients confuse the role of the family law attorney with their therapist. You should prepare a list of items to discuss with your divorce lawyer whether talking on the phone or meeting in person.  It will help you better focus on the case. This also ensures that you will cover all of your pressing issues and get the responses needed.  

If the family law attorney is not in when you call, leave a detailed message. If the question can easily be answered by staff, you can save the attorney’s time and your money. If the divorce lawyer knows the reason for the call, a response may be communicated by staff that saves on telephone billing time.

Don’t hesitate to use the services of an associate for the mundane or perfunctory aspects of your case.    By using an associate, you will be billed at lower hourly rates.  The senior partner will still be available to review the matter, but will need less time to do so at the higher hourly rate.

Another way of keeping your legal fees in check is to communicate with your divorce lawyer by e-mail. It allows the client to focus on the issue and lets the family law attorney respond in writing. Often times, a distraught client may not “hear” the answer when told..The client can then reflect upon what is being told in writing.  But keep the e-mails brief: a long e-mail may be too hard to answer with a quick turnaround.

If you have a list of issues and developments in your case that need to be discussed with your divorce lawyer, schedule a telephone conference or meeting.  Prepare and share an agenda with your divorce attorney in advance so everyone knows what areas need to be covered.  Limit the time of the meeting.  Both the client and divorce lawyer are then better prepared to cover the topics.

Finally, the more concise the information you provide your family law attorney, the less time will be needed to properly prepare your case.  Complete the “homework” given to you by your divorce lawyer as best as you can.  Gather your financial documents in the beginning of the case including tax returns, financial statements, bank statements, checking account records, and credit card statements. Organize them and produce chronological records for the divorce lawyer. Organize your checking records to produce your budget. If you have access to Quicken or some other computer software program that helps prepare budgets, complete this information for your attorney. The client is the best “expert” to determine the parties’ lifestyle.   If you do not have access to these records, prepare a list for your attorney of what financial accounts you believe were maintained during the marriage and the name of the accountant who may have prepared your tax returns.

A well-organized and proactive client not only saves fees, but is more likely to realize his or her goals in the divorce process.

About the author of this New Jersey Divorce FAQ:

Lizanne J. Ceconi is a founding member of the Summit, NJ family law firm of Ceconi & Cheifetz, LLC specializing in family law. She is the Second Vice-Chair of the New Jersey State Bar Association Family Law Section and lectures frequently on issues affecting New Jersey family law matters. She can be reached at (908) 273-6300.View her Divorce Magazine profile.

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July 12, 2006
Categories:  FAQs

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