Getting the best from your divorce lawyer

Getting the best from your divorce lawyer
 
You’re paying through the teeth for your divorce lawyer – every fax, phone call and meeting racks up the bill, so how can you get the most for your money?
 
Your divorce lawyer will already have given you an idea of the kind of fee to expect and, although you may be shocked by the hourly rate, remember that your divorce lawyer doesn’t just pocket the lot. A divorce lawyer has to rent an office and employ back-up staff, like secretaries, receptionists and clerks. Technology and training is also expensive and lawyers have to factor all these essential working tools into your bill.
Currently, you have to be on an extremely low income (£20,740 per year, after deductions like childcare and housing – that’s £2,161 below the average British wage) to get Legal Aid in family cases and even if you are fortunate enough to be eligible for public funding, you will probably have to pay back the costs of the case in the end, if you own your own home. If it is not sold immediately, the costs can be charged against the property as a kind of mortgage, which will have to be paid off when an eventual sale takes place.

Time is money
Time spent with your divorce lawyer, or time that’s spent on your case, will escalate the costs. So anything you can do to reduce that time is obviously going to be to your advantage.
First, choose your divorce lawyer with care. Not all solicitors are experts in family law, so make sure you find one who is. Visit Citizens Advice (www.citizensadvice.org.uk) or the Law Society (www.lawsociety.org.uk).
There is also an organisation of family specialists called Resolution (www.resolution.org.uk) that might prove useful. Members try to keep the heat out of family disputes and to reach agreed settlements without the expense of court proceedings, which can help keep costs down.
“When you have your first meeting with your divorce lawyer it’s a good idea to take a friend with you to help you digest the advice,” said Jane Keir, partner at law firm Kingsley Napley. “You’re given a lot of information in that first meeting, which is a lot to sink in, but a friend will be able to go over it all with you later. It also helps if you ask your divorce lawyer to prepare notes of everything that was said so you can refer to it later, but remember to check whether there’ll be a fee for this.”
 
Keeping costs down
Once you have chosen a divorce lawyer, here’s how to make the most of their expertise at minimum cost:
  • Keep telephone calls to a minimum. Every minute is charged for.  
  • Keep an eye on correspondence. Letters between lawyers can proliferate, sometimes with little real value.
  • Ask yourself if this argument really worth it. Disagreements can blow up over contact arrangement, with the children, for example. Take a deep breath and consider whether you really want to waste time and money complaining that he was half an hour late in returning the children, or if she didn’t have them ready when you went to collect them. A little flexibility in those arrangements will do no harm and might do a lot of good, when the children are relieved from watching their parents fight over them.
  • When you have an appointment with your divorce lawyer, make sure you list everything you want to discuss. Bring the list with you, to make sure that no time is wasted. Your lawyer will ask you to bring copies of various documents which are essential to disclose in financial proceedings. If you don’t bring them when you are asked to do so, there will be inevitable delay and another unnecessary letter will have to be written to you.
  • Consider using a professional mediator in order to reach agreement on as many matters as possible. Mediators’ fees are considerably less than those of lawyers. They can draw up agreements that your lawyer can have made into court orders, after you have been advised on the terms, if necessary.