EXCERPT from Breaking Up: Finding and Working with a New Jersey Divorce Attorney
There are ways you can reduce your legal bills with a little bit of effort:
Respond to your lawyer promptly. If your lawyer needs to get an answer from you about something and it takes six contacts before you reply, that’s costing you money.
Communicate succinctly. If you have a question or a set of questions for your lawyer, keep it succinct, and have an agenda going into a meeting or call. Using email can also reduce your bill. If you write an email message with five questions in it, your lawyer may only need six to twelve minutes to respond depending on the depth of the answer, but the same series of questions by phone could take half an hour.
Limit meetings with the attorney. Email is fastest, phone is next, and meetings are slowest to convey the same information or get the same questions answered. This is just the nature of the interaction. You should be able to get in and meet with your lawyer when you need to, but limit it to need so that you can reduce your costs.
Also limit status requests. If you haven’t heard from your lawyer in a while, you can certainly follow up. But there are periods of time in a divorce when nothing happens, and your lawyer may be trying to keep your bill low by not calling to tell you that.
Gather your own materials. Don’t make your lawyer chase every bit of information down. If they say they need medical bills, call your doctor and get them. Don’t make your lawyer’s office contact the doctor, fill out forms to get the documents released, and so on.
Work with the paralegal. If you have a question or concern, or if you need help with paperwork, communicate with the paralegal if the firm has one and be billed at a much lower rate. If they can’t answer you, they’ll get the answer from the lawyer.
Make decisions from your head, not your heart. The single biggest cost to clients is vengeance. If you are making your decisions out of a desire to hurt your ex as opposed to a desire to help yourself, you are costing yourself money. Some lawyers will encourage this because they know that if you’re angry, you’ll keep spending to fight and they’ll make more money. A good lawyer will tell you when your position is counter to your own interests and encourage you to do what’s best for you in the long run, and that is rarely ever “getting” the other person. An important point: You will never be vindicated in family court. No one walks out of family court having won. If you get everything you ask for, you’ve still lost something—time with your children, money, sleep. The job of a good family attorney is to mitigate your loss. That sometimes means waging war in order to get your goals met. However, waging war just to do it is a waste of your resources.
Tell your lawyer everything. It costs money to fix damage that’s done by a lawyer who doesn’t have all the information they need to work a case. Surprises, particularly ones that pop up on a day of court, are every lawyer’s least favorite thing. Even if you’re embarrassed by the facts, your lawyer needs to have them. Their job is not to judge you, it’s to help you. If your lawyer is judging you, find another lawyer. But you do need to let them know everything that might cause a problem.
Be on time. If you have a court hearing and your lawyer has to wait half an hour for you to appear, that can amount to an hour or half a day or more because the judge knocks you to the bottom of their docket list. Always be on time. You can’t control if your adversary is late or if you are low on the list, but at least you can control that.
Help your lawyer help you. Be forthcoming with information, show up to meetings with all documentation requested, fill out forms in a timely fashion, and be ready to answer questions when needed. The least expensive divorces are those where both sides are prepared to assist in the development of their case. The second least expensive is where at least one side is.