How to hire a divorce attorney without losing your nest egg, retirement, or savings? Let’s first talk about hourly rates. Hourly rates for attorneys in Orange County can range anywhere from $200 to $500 or more. Retainer agreements can range all across the board. Some, though not many, attorneys will offer a flat fee and some will require you to put down a retainer deposit. There are some attorneys that will even require you to put down a security deposit. Here is a brief explanation of the three most common basic options:
Retainer Agreement in a California Divorce – Orange County
Retainers usually start at a couple of thousand dollars for a simple case and for more complex cases it can be as high as you can afford. With a retainer you put money into the attorney’s trust account, and each month your attorney will bill you, but payment is taken from the retainer. When the retainer is depleted or goes below a certain level, you are usually required to replenish the retainer if your case is not done. When we cannot charge a flat fee, our firm will use a retainer agreement.
Flat fee agreements for a California Divorce – Orange County
Flat fees are great for straightforward, low conflict cases, but for cases that are litigated not so much. The good thing about flat fees is that you know exactly how much you will pay, but there are several downsides. First, very few attorneys will offer a flat fee for litigation. If they do, the representation will be very limited, and don’t expect your attorney to work many hours beyond what your flat fee paid for. It is just not feasible for most attorneys. If you get a flat fee attorney, your case should be straightforward and not horribly contentious. If your case is complex and contentious, a flat fee may not be a good idea. We offer flat fees for some cases, but do not compromise the responsiveness to our clients. Call us for free phone consultation to see if your case qualifies for a flat fee agreement.
Security Deposit Agreements in a California Divorce – Orange County
Security deposits usually start at a couple of thousand dollars. Security deposits are exactly what they sound like. You put money into the attorney’s trust account, then they bill you periodically. If at the end of your case the security deposit has not been used, it will be returned to you.
Multiply hourly rates with the time estimate to get an idea on the cost of the divorce
Many people forget to ask for an estimate of the whole case. Litigation can be unpredictable, but a firm should have an idea of the strategy of the case early on. You should also know the hourly rate for everyone who is going to work on your case. But, the most important question is how many hours. You should get an idea of what tasks are going to be done and how much time you will be billed. Then multiply your attorney’s hourly rate with the time estimate. Can you really afford a $400 to $600 an hour attorney?
Our rates and fee agreements
At the Song Family Law firm we customize your family law case plan. Most importantly, our hourly rates are affordable. We keep them reasonable so that we can have flexibility with the cases we take. And, when possible we charge a flat fee. For cases not applicable to a flat fee arrangement we offer a very reasonable retainer agreement. A divorce shouldn’t bankrupt you because of attorney’s fees, call the Song Family Law firm today for a free phone consultation.
12 questions you should ask before you hire a divorce attorney
- What is the attorney’s state bar disciplinary record? It is imperative to hire an attorney that has a clean disciplinary record. It is surprising that so many people do not check the California state website when hiring an attorney. Even if it is for simple matters, it is important to know the record of who you are hiring.
- How long have they been in practice? Experience makes a difference. You want to make sure that your divorce attorney has the experience to handle your case. It starts with strategy, and having the right strategy from the beginning can save you money – more importantly get you results.
- Is there practice exclusively family law? You don’t want a jack of all trades and a master of none. You want an attorney dedicated to family law, because family courts are significantly different than other areas of law. You also want to have a family law attorney familiar with the court rules and judicial officers.
- How is the firm organized and will you get prompt attention? Ask yourself, are you going to be able to speak to the decision maker or will you be handed off to someone else. You will want to be able to speak and consult with the attorney handling your case, making decisions on strategy, and attending your hearing. If not, consider why you are paying $300 to $500 an hour.
- How many attorneys will work on your case? The solo practitioner and the solo practitioner with one associate is the traditional model for family law firms. There are many reasons why this structure works best in family law. You want to make sure that the person handling your case or touching your case is intimately familiar with it. Otherwise, you may be paying for someone else to get caught up to speed.
- What is the reputation of the attorney? This is a tough question to answer. Many labels you’ll find on firm websites are paid for. Many reviews online can be helpful, but may be misleading. I’m sure that you’ve gone to a restaurant that was highly reviewed, only to find it was clearly not a four or five-star experience. Review all the information you can find on the attorney you intend to hire. You may even want to ask around. Ultimately, comfort level with an experienced, qualified, and affordable attorney with a good reference will be a good choice.
- How much do I get charged for travel time, waiting time at court, and for continuances? Often hearings get continued, sometimes you won’t find out until you arrive at court. If you are filing an ex parte, there is even a greater chance of wait time. There are also times that the court will have a busy calendar so you will have to wait around until the judge can hear your case, especially if there is a domestic violence case since those get priority. If you pay your attorney for every hour they spend at court waiting for your case to be heard, a simple hearing can cost thousands. You will want to know if your attorney gives you any breaks for these types of situations.
- What is the hourly rate of associates and how much of the work is done by them? Hourly rates can vary depending on the firm, but you want to make sure that you are paying for an experienced attorney, even if it’s just an associate. Do you think charging $250 to $350 an hour for an associate with only a few years of experience makes sense? If a solo practitioner with 10 years of experience or more is charging $250 or $350 an hour, ask yourself what is the benefit of paying for an associate $300 an hour.
- What is the experience level of associates? Along with price, you will want to have someone experienced working on your case. You do not want to pay an associate for doing work that a paralegal can do. Drafting simple letters, putting together exhibits, making copies, preparing memos to keep the attorney in charge informed, etc. are tasks that you don’t want to pay an associate for at associate rates.
- What is the hourly rate of paralegals and how much of the work is done by them? It is important to review your bill and make sure that you are not being charged for paralegal work done by an attorney. Attorneys typically bill twice as much, if not more, as paralegals, so you will want to make sure that it’s the paralegal that calls the clerk, sends out the FedEx, schedules appointments.
- Is every email billed to me, even if it’s not a response to an email I’ve sent? Communication via email can be a cost-effective way to talk to your lawyer. But, make sure that you are not being billed for every email. Sometimes, the emails are not truly necessary or are so short that it should not be billed a “.1”. If you email your attorney and want to ask questions, keep in mind that you will most likely be billed for it. So, you don’t want to ask open-ended questions. Short phone calls may be best if you have simple questions or have a concern. But, if it is a short informative email or phone call, hopefully you are not billed for each one.
- What costs do I have to pay directly? There are times that your case will need a subpoena, deposition, an expert, or private investigator. You should know what costs you will have to pay separate from attorney’s fees. For example, ask how court fees will be handled. Court fees are often not paid from the retainer.