Hiring a Family Law Attorney: Fee Agreements

You've decided you need legal advice related to family law, but you're wondering how much hiring a lawyer will cost. While there isn't a straightforward answer, a few factors affect the answer to that question.

First, the cost will depend on your case type and the complexity involved in resolving the pending issues. For example, an uncontested divorce will be much less complex and, thus, less expensive than a contested divorce. Second, it'll depend on the fee agreement between you and your lawyer.

When you're considering hiring a family law attorney, your fee agreement should set out the services the lawyer will perform for you, the type of legal fees that will be charged, and the amount you'll be expected to pay. The agreement should also outline how other legal costs are handled and explain the lawyer's billing practices.

This article discusses attorney fee agreements that a family law attorney may use.

Topics Covered in Attorney Fee Agreements

Before choosing a lawyer, there are a variety of questions to ask a potential lawyer in an initial meeting. These discussions will include the type of lawyer fee arrangement, additional permissible costs that may be charged, and the estimated fees and costs of your family law case. Your discussions with your lawyer about fees and costs might cover the topics in the sections below.

Types of Fee Arrangements

Different law offices have different fee structures. A family law attorney may charge a flat fee (sometimes called a "fixed fee") or bill clients on an hourly basis. You will want to ask about their hourly rate and compare it with the hourly fees of other legal professionals in your area. You should also inquire if the lawyer requires the payment of a retainer fee, which can be discussed in a retainer agreement.

In most family law cases, the "retainer" is a lump sum paid upfront to the attorney that the attorney deposits to a trust (also referred to as escrow) account. If the attorney charges an hourly rate, they will draw from the escrow account after services are performed—usually every month. Until the attorney earns the fees, they belong to the client; hence, they use a designated trust account to hold the retainer.

Many lawyers also allow for contingency fee arrangements, where the contingency fee depends on the case outcome. Remember that these types of agreements are not allowed for criminal cases or child support or child custody cases, per the rules of professional conduct.

Discussing these options with your lawyer will help you decide which type of fee arrangement is best for both of you.

Permissible Costs

Besides the fees for the lawyer's work, there are a variety of legal costs involved in practicing the law. These include costs related to making copies or conducting electronic research. Sometimes, there may also be court costs like filing fees for your case or costs for arbitration. You may also be responsible for paying for expert witnesses, for example. It's important to know which costs you'll be responsible for.

Estimated Fees and Costs

A lawyer may be unable to determine the exact amount of time and effort required to handle your case. So, it is difficult for them to determine the exact costs upfront. But they should be in a position to give you an estimate of the fees and costs based on experience. Many law offices also provide payment plans to their clients, so asking if this is an option is essential.

Payment Frequency and Details

You should find out how often you will be billed and whether interest or other charges will be added to unpaid amounts. The lawyer's bills should include details of the services provided along with an itemization of costs. An experienced attorney will update you on your case's costs as they add up.

Basic Charges

You should find out the minimum billing segment if the lawyer charges by the hour. For example, a lawyer may bill you for a tenth of an hour (six minutes) for a simple three-minute telephone call. You should also find out whether you will be billed for work by others — associates, legal assistants, or paralegals.

Control Over Expenses

Establishing how much control you'll have over the fees and expenses is important. For example, you may ask that the lawyer notify you if the fees and expenses reach a certain amount. You will also want to know where any funds are kept until earned by the attorney, such as a trust (escrow) account (explained briefly above in Type of Fee Arrangement).

Finalizing the Fee Agreement

You might want to take notes during your discussions to know what terms you and the lawyer agreed upon. After discussing your expectations upfront, you should have the fee arrangement put in writing. The lawyer may have a pre-printed fee agreement, sometimes called a representation agreement. Be sure to read it carefully before signing.

If the agreement doesn't include the terms you've discussed with the lawyer, ask the lawyer to change the language. It's essential for the agreement to clearly state what you and the lawyer agreed to do, especially if there's a disagreement later.

Talk to a Family Law Attorney About Fee Agreements Today

While it's hard to fathom the total cost of hiring a family law attorney, a fee agreement can help you to better understand and plan for the costs. Dealing with legal issues can be stressful and overwhelming, but consulting a legal professional about legal services can ease the process.

Family law attorneys can provide valuable legal help to guide you through whatever family legal matters you face. Whether your family law case is a divorce case, domestic violence case, or involves child custody or child support, a family lawyer will provide legal representation and guidance through your family law proceedings.

If you have an issue related to family law, you should consider discussing it with a skilled family law attorney near you today.

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