Oftentimes, when people find themselves in a position to hire a family law attorney, they are experiencing a period of significant transition in their lives. Clients seeking representation in a divorce or other family law matter may be feeling scared or angry about all of the changes and uncertainty that they are facing. Oftentimes, when these clients hire a family law attorney, it is the first time that they have ever sought legal representation of any kind. For these people, the idea of hiring and working with an attorney may be stressful or intimidating, or they may be concerned that their costs will skyrocket out of control when they obtain representation. Fortunately, there are some easy and straightforward ways to manage your attorney’s fees and costs while maximizing your attorney-client relationship.
Communication is key in any attorney-client relationship, and this is particularly true in family law, where the circumstances and dynamics of any given case can change quickly. When you begin working with your attorney, ask for his or her preferred means of communication, and try to utilize this as your primary means of communication going forward to alert your attorney to important developments or incidents involving your case. This will likely result in a faster response from your attorney and can also help to reduce your costs.
When communicating with your attorney, time is money. One way to reduce your costs in communicating with your attorney is to outline or summarize your concerns. If you are communicating with your attorney via e-mail, bullet points are a great way to communicate major issues and ensure that your attorney doesn’t have to spend a half hour or more sifting through a detailed e-mail to identify key points. As an added bonus, this may also result in a faster response from your attorney because he or she will not have to set aside additional time to tease out your main concerns before responding to you.
In addition to keeping individual e-mails concise, you can also work to reduce the total number of e-mails that you send to your attorney each week. As an example of this, suppose that a number of smaller, non-emergency issues arise in any given week. Rather than sending an individual e-mail each time an issue arises, wait and send a single e-mail towards the end of the week that addresses all of these issues. It will likely take your attorney the same amount of time to read this one longer e-mail as it would have taken him or her to read all of your shorter e-mails; however, instead of billing you each day for reading these e-mails, your attorney might only need to bill you for a slightly longer time on one day.
Whether your attorney (or his or her support staff) is requesting documents for discovery production, your availability for scheduling mediation, or your feedback or approval regarding court pleadings to be filed, it is important for you to be responsive to these requests. A lack of response from a client can cause unnecessary delay and is frustrating for attorneys and their staff. Additionally, non-responsiveness can also increase your bill if your attorney or his or her staff is forced to follow up with you repeatedly on the same issue. When your attorney asks you for something that might be difficult for you to obtain, update your attorney on the steps that you are taking to obtain the requested information, and let your attorney know about any difficulties that you are experiencing so that your attorney can relay this information to opposing counsel and help you to retrieve the requested information by other means.
All of these suggestions can be summed up into a single tip: Be a part of the team. The more informed and involved you are in your own representation and the more work that you can do on your own behalf, the happier you will be with your bill, and likely, with your representation overall.
Written by: Senior Associate Attorney, Kendal O’Keefe