Getting Value from Your Attorney’s Hourly Fees
Most divorce attorneys charge between $200 and $350 per hour. That fact could become a real obstacle in your divorce (and can even drive you a little crazy), unless you find ways to deal with it effectively. Here are some tips that I think will help you come to grips with this difficult reality.
Take a Macro Look at the Hourly Fees.
Charging by the hour creates an enormous misconception about how a lawyer’s time is used. For example, if an attorney charges $285 per hour, it creates the impression that each hour they spend on behalf of clients is worth $285. Nothing could be further from the truth. When I look back on my cases, even the cases where I think my clients achieved a priceless outcome, I realize that many of the hours I spent on the case were not worth anything near that amount.
Much of the time on the case is spent reviewing documents, listening to the client’s story about what has happened, describing the process to the client, going over ground rules, etc. Very likely, my client could find people to do some of those things for $15.00 per hour. Those tasks, by themselves, have little value.
On the other hand, when I look back on my most successful clients, the ones where clients made great decisions during their divorce, I realize that some of the moments that I spent with clients created a great deal of value for them.
A tangible example might be a time when I, often in conjunction with the other team members on the case, came up with a creative financial solution that saved the clients thousands of dollars in future taxes or transaction costs. The work spent on developing that option may have been less than an hour or two but may have led to savings that were worth more than ten times my hourly rate.
More significantly (and this is the most abstract part of our business), there are moments when the assistance of an attorney may be nearly priceless. When a client is struggling with the emotions of the divorce in a way that is causing them to mistreat their spouse and inadvertently harm their children, this may be when they need the most help from their “advocate.”
A good divorce attorney can sometimes help them rethink what they are doing; sometimes in subtle ways, like truly listening to a client, helping them see the impact of their behavior, urging them to get the help they need to address emotional barriers, or simply making sure they understand their options. The impact of that work may not be obvious at the time, or even for many years. Yet, when they look back, the clients come to realize that certain decisions that they made, hopefully with skilled guidance from their attorney, helped them achieve a priceless outcome for their family.
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