Everyone loves to save money and legal fees are no exception. With most Chicago area lawyers charging upwards of $300 per hour to work on your divorce, fees will soar quickly. There is a lot of work involved and the truth is that not everyone can afford to hire a private divorce lawyer, especially if there are children involved. Here are a few ideas that could help you to save on legal fees.
How Much does a Chicago Divorce Cost?
Divorce is expensive. This reminds me of the old joke: "Why is Divorce so expensive?" Answer: "Because its worth it!" In all seriousness, divorce is unpleasant enough without having to worry about going bankrupt in the very process. Divorce and Child Custody attorneys do not typically charge a flat fee rate due to the unpredictability of how a case will go, and Illinois lawyer are not allowed to charge contingency fees in a divorce or family law case. Divorce lawyers ask for a retainer (deposit) at the outset, and they usually run out quickly unless you are putting down a sizeable amount. Fees are hourly and in the Chicago area, lawyers are now charging upwards of $300.00 per hour for divorce work. Rates of $350 or even $400 per hour are not unheard of for a senior attorney who has been in business for a while. As of 2017, an "average divorce" costs - in my experience- anywhere between $10,000 to $25,000.
How Can I Save Money on my Legal Fees in Divorce?
There are some things that you can do to better prepare yourself for the costs and reduce what you will have to pay, even if you are being billed hourly. Here are a few tips to help save you some money:
1) UNDERSTAND THE WRITTEN FEE AGREEMENT: Your lawyer should be very upfront and honest about the fees. No one likes to be surprised. Before signing anything or hiring an attorney to handle your Illinois divorce or family law case, make sure that you have reviewed a written fee agreement. If there is something in it that you don't understand- ask. Be sure that you understand how the billable hour is divided. For example, if your lawyer spends 12 minutes on a task in your case , is he or she billing in 6 minute increments (in which case you would be billed .2 of an hour) or in 15 minute increments (in which case you are being billed for .25 of an hour)? It adds up.
2) SELECT A LAWYER WHO YOU CAN TRUST TO GIVE YOU TIMELY UPDATES: Your case is very important and no one understands that better than you do. Expect that your lawyer will give you timely updates on any new developments in your case. With that reassurance, you won't be wondering if you are missing something important in your case if you don't call for an update, thereby reducing needless phone calls on your end. What I mean is this. Let's say you are waiting for your spouse to be served with the divorce papers. If your lawyer tells you "I will let you know as soon as I find out if he or she has been served"; don't call every other day asking your lawyer if he or she has been served yet. Trust that your lawyer will let you know as soon as the law firm finds out. That being said, if you find that your lawyer is simply not keeping you in the loop, then there is a problem and you need to address these concerns or else find another lawyer. The more you trust your lawyer, the less you will feel the need to micro-manage them.
3) BE ORGANIZED: Your lawyer will at some point most likely need documents from you- bank statements, tax returns, etc. Save these items in a place where you can find them when they are needed. Don't make your lawyer chase you down or worse yet, have to get a needless continuance because he or she is waiting on you.
4) PICK YOUR BATTLES: Don't be the client who wants their lawyer to spend 14.3 hours back and forth arguing over who gets the Cuisinart. There are better ways to make sure that you get your fair share of the personal property. Know what outcome is truly important to you overall and discuss a strategy with your lawyer. Fighting over personal property is the biggest waste of money in a divorce case. As for routine household stuff and furnishings, grow up and work it out with your spouse.
5) ASK YOURSELF IF YOU REALLY HAVE A LEGAL QUESTION: Chances are pretty good that your lawyer likes you, otherwise, he or she would not have taken your case. And while your lawyer will genuinely enjoy talking to you, remember that the time will show up on the bill. By all means, spend the money if you have a legal question- it will be well worth it! But don't call if you just want to chat about the latest thing that your spouse has done to make you mad if you really just need to vent but don't really want anything different done with respect to the way your case is being handled. Talk to a friend or keep a journal if you just need to get these feelings out. Before picking up the phone to complain to your lawyer about your spouse, ask yourself if there is something that you would like for your lawyer to do about it or if it could change the outcome of your case. If the answer is no, save your money.
6) REQUEST A MEETING WITH YOUR LAWYER: Chances are you will have a lot of questions once the case gets going. Some people find it more cost effective and also more useful to schedule an appointment to come in and talk, rather than making several little phone calls.
Could Mediation Save Money on My Divorce Fees? Oftentimes, Yes!
7) CONSIDER DIVORCE MEDIATION: Not every divorcing couple are the right candidates for mediation, but if you are stuck on an issue or several issues, with the lawyers going back and forth without much progress, look into mediating your divorce. This will cut to the chase and get the two of you in a room together with a neutral mediator who is trained to help you work your way through the dispute towards a solution that both sides can live with. Usually it takes multiple sessions but if you split the fees and focus only the hot issues in your divorce, it can get your divorce moving forward again so that you aren't paying your lawyers to keep going back and forth in a divorce tug-of-war that isn't progressing. If you want to give mediation a try or are simply curious about it, give us a call for a no-pressure no-obligation phone call with Carol Cadiz who can answer questions about the mediation process. Many people find our Fast Track Mediaiton Guide to be a good place to start learning about the process, and it is available for free download on this site.