Understand the Written Attorney Fee Agreement
Nearly all experienced and effective family law lawyers charge by the hour and collect an advance retainer (or deposit) that is paid at the beginning of each divorce case. Oftentimes, divorce attorneys in Michigan charge minimum retainer fees.
Fees and expenses will be charged against the deposited retainer until it is exhausted, at which point the client is normally responsible for any additional fees or costs incurred. Many top divorce attorneys require that the initial retainer deposit be replenished as it is being used up.
Clients will sometimes look for a family attorney who will represent them on a flat fee basis, thinking that this will save them money. The problem with this arrangement is that the attorney has no incentive to do anything beyond the bare minimum. The client often feels like his case is being ignored, the attorney often feels like the client is intentionally trying to take up as much of his time as possible, and they may both be right.
It is fair for a Michigan divorce attorney to be paid for the work done on a case, much like other professionals are compensated. Charging by the hour is the most common way that divorce lawyers in Mid-Michigan work for their clients. This applies to family law attorneys in Lansing, Eaton County, Clinton County, Ingham County, and Ionia County. Divorce lawyers in Gratiot County and in Barry County use similar types of retainer fee arrangements.
Whether you hire a lawyer on an hourly or flat fee basis, it is extremely important that you get a written fee agreement that makes the terms of the representation very clear. This includes whether any retainer is refundable, how often you will receive statements, the attorney’s hourly rates, etc. You should understand the minimum charges for phone calls, letters, and email communications. You should request a copy of this fee agreement. It is important that you understand the agreement.
Most divorce lawyers will not be offended if you ask questions about their fee agreements in order to avoid confusion later on. Similarly, most divorce attorneys will not charge you if you just call to ask a question about your bill.
At The Kronzek Firm, we certainly encourage clients to ask questions if they don’t understand something on their bills and we never charge for our time to answer billing-related questions.
Don’t Mistake your Divorce Attorney for your Therapist
Divorces are extremely emotional. Because your divorce attorney is (or at least should be) firmly in your corner, talking to her or him can be a very reassuring experience. If your lawyer has handled numerous cases, they understand your side of the situation and it feels good to talk to someone who sees the righteousness of your position. Because it makes you feel better to speak with your divorce lawyer, you may get into a habit of calling or sending email often. Sometimes daily. Sometimes several times a day.
Unless you have more money than you know what to do with, you should NOT fall into this trap. Remember that every time you call your lawyer, the clock is running. Think of it as a very expensive cab ride. As soon as you get in the cab, the meter starts running. It works the same with a family law lawyer. As soon as you are on the phone with him or her, the meter is running and you are getting charged.
Remember that the only thing that lawyers have to sell is their time and advice. This is how Michigan divorce attorneys make their living – – selling their time and advice (just like doctors, accountants, architects, and engineers do.)
This does not mean you should never communicate with your attorney. On the contrary, you should communicate with your divorce lawyer anytime you need legal advice on your case. But before you pick up the phone make a list of questions or issues you want to discuss, carefully consider your list. Limit your conversation to the essentials and discuss these points without wasting time ranting about the unfairness of the situation.
Our family law attorneys also respond to email inquiries, questions, and problems from our clients. However, we are not trained as therapists. It will be most effective to vent to a therapist rather than a divorce attorney.
Don’t use your Divorce Attorney to Negotiate or Divide Personal Items
Arguing about which party deserves the green chair, the lamp in the den, the blue sheets, or the toaster oven is a waste of attorney’s fees. You should try to resolve these issues with your spouse if at all possible. Ideally, if you and your spouse have already separated, you could divide these items by agreement and exchange them before the case has been completed.
Then (when it’s time to finalize the divorce) the provision in the final divorce agreement (which Michigan courts call your Judgment of Divorce), would simply show that each party keeps all personal effects (furniture, clothing, electronics, appliances, kitchen equipment, etc.) in their possession.
This can save a great deal in lawyer fees by avoiding debates over property that actually has very little market value. If you and your spouse can agree about how to split the bills, you will likewise be saving attorney fees. You will want to speak with your divorce attorney briefly to get an overview about dividing marital assets and debts in a divorce case in Michigan. Our divorce lawyers have extensive experience planning and strategizing for a settlement in divorce cases.
Don’t throw Away Dollars to Save Nickels
This is extremely important. People will often be very frugal about hiring an attorney and think they are saving a lot of money by hiring a lawyer for a small flat fee or by hiring someone who is inexperienced, but will work cheaply. This is a huge mistake. Remember, you usually get what you pay for. Cheap lawyers know what they’re worth. Top-ranked, experienced lawyers understand their value, too. By the end of a divorce case, you should understand the value of your own attorney.
Your goal should be to reach a reasonable settlement as quickly as possible. But don’t rush it too much. Talk to your lawyer about timing. In order to reach this goal you will need an effective lawyer who sincerely shares objectives and goals with you.
That lawyer will then use their experience and skills to help you reach that objective. But notice the phrase “reasonable settlement”, not just any settlement. Not just a quick settlement.
If the other side cannot be convinced to settle the case on reasonable terms it is very important that your lawyer have the skills and confidence to effectively try your case. (The Kronzek Firm settles more than 95% of our cases without going to trial.) An attorney who is learning on the job, or is simply unprepared, can cost you a great deal of money. So don’t cheat yourself out of dollars in an attempt to save nickels. Hire the very best divorce lawyer you can afford. You’ve probably heard it before: You often get what you pay for.
Don’t think the divorce case is a way to get even with your Spouse
Judges in and around Lansing and Mid-Michigan have very little patience with parties using the family courts as a way to try and get even with their spouse. Good lawyers with extensive experience tell this to their clients. The issue of fault in the divorce case is not one that usually plays a huge part in the judge’s final decision in a divorce case.
Judges frown on vindictiveness, attempts to punish the other spouse, or people that drag the spouse into court for no reason. Our judges are too busy to deal with the emotional side of divorce but they (as well as experienced attorneys) do understand that divorce is an emotionally traumatic time.
Increasingly, our courts are looking at failed marriages in the same way they would view a failed business – – split up the assets and debts. Then let everyone part ways and move on.
Good lawyers will be able to help you find a well-regarded therapist to assist you in working through this very difficult emotional stage in your life, if you want one. The lawyer’s office and the judge’s courtroom are not for therapy. Attempting to involve lawyers and judges in the emotional side of a divorce is a waste of your time and money.
Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth
Can you imagine what would happen if you had a very severe pain in your stomach and you went to the doctor’s office? Suppose that you told the doctor that your wrist was causing you terrible pain. The doctor would likely focus all the attention on your wrist and ignore your stomach. Chances are that you’ll have wasted your money on that doctor because they wouldn’t deal with your stomach pain since you weren’t honest with the doctor.
Family law attorneys are the same. If you don’t tell us the whole truth, chances are we won’t do our jobs properly. We don’t like to learn new things late in the divorce process or by accident. That is a ridiculous waste of our time and your money.
Every divorce lawyer wants to know the good and the bad about their client. We want to know about ALL the dirt, ALL the bills, ALL the assets, and everything else relevant to your case. If a client is less than fully honest with a family law attorney, they are costing themselves too much money in attorney fees.