I often receive telephone calls from prospective clients and, without fail, the first question out of their mouth is, “How much will a divorce cost?” I cannot answer that question, at least without probing further.
A divorce is not a commodity. A prospective client is not purchasing a widget, where they can comparison shop by price. Instead, the client is retaining a professional to render a service. Legal services are generally rendered on a time basis. That is, the client generally pays for legal representation at an agreed upon hourly rate. An attorney’s hourly rate is often a measure of the lawyer’s experience, knowledge and reputation.
Often, when I explain this, the next question is, “Well, you have been doing this for some time; you must know how long my divorce will take.” My answer again is, “I don’t know how long your divorce will take.” I am an attorney not a fortune-teller. I know only what you told me about your case, I completely unaware of your spouse’s view of the case (which may be diametrically opposed to your view).
Clearly, the more heated and contested the divorce, the more time will be spent in handling your matter, resulting in a higher fee. If you or your spouse are unreasonable in your expectations or inflexible in your demands, you will spend more time and money on the divorce. Oft times, parties will be so litigious, that the entire marital estate could be exhausted in legal fees.
On the flip side, if there are no issues, or if the issues can easily be resolved, the cost of the divorce can be minimal.
That said, should you really pick your attorney based solely upon price? After all, do you pick your doctor on price or because you are confident in his/her abilities? In future postings, I will discuss what you should consider when retaining an attorney.
I think the only time a legal fee should be a consideration is when it is too low. A low ball legal fee is a reason to run away from that representation. I am aware that there are many services that advertise they will assist you in obtaining a divorce for a couple of hundred dollars. Stay away from these services. These practices may be, at best, paralegal services. Odds are you will never speak to an attorney. These “divorce mills” work on volume and are ill-equipped handle substantive legal problems.
Over the years, I have represented several clients after they have been “represented by” a divorce mill. Most of the cases were riddled with problems. These unfortunate clients found out the hard way, there is no such thing as a bargain as the cost to undue the divorce mill’s errors exceeded the perceived savings in retaining these services.
On the other hand, I am not advocating going to the opposite extreme, retaining the lawyer with the highest hourly rate. Just go into the relationship with your eyes open.