I believe it’s important for an attorney to be upfront and honest about their fee structures and the costs of litigation. Too many clients come to me with horror stories of past attorneys telling them one price then shocking them with a much higher bill. At the Bonnie Shields Law Firm you’ll be treated fairly with affordable and predictable legal fees.
When you seek to hire a lawyer you will typically be asked to pay an up front retainer. The retainer is a sum of money that your attorney bills against at an hourly rate as they work on your case. Sometimes your retainer is just an amount needed to start work on your case, other times the retainer is a total estimate of the cost of your case. When you seek to hire Bonnie she will first meet with you to discuss your case and the expected costs of litigating it. The amount of your retainer will depend upon how complex your case is and how difficult it will be to litigate.
After you hire Bonnie and pay the initial retainer she will bill against that retainer at a rate of $325.00 per hour. For an attorney with more than 26 years of legal experience that is an incredibly reasonable rate.
What Are Unbundled Services?
Unbundled services are services an attorney can offer that involve helping you with portions of your case that don’t involve going to court or being involved on a day-to-day basis, etc.
When you are going through a divorce, child custody case, modification of parenting time or child support, or any other family law type of case it can be overwhelming. You can handle everything on your own or hire an attorney to “enter their appearance.” That means that the attorney would be there through the entire process, to guide you, appear in court with you, correspond with the other side, and draft all documents. If you can afford to hire an attorney to represent you this way, it can be a great relief that someone else is “responsible” for getting things turned in on time, moving the case along and making arguments in the courtroom for you.
However, often it is just too expensive to pay an attorney to do everything for you. The initial retainer is likely to be a few thousand dollars and when the retainer runs low, you will have to come up with more money.
Your third option is to hire an attorney for “unbundled services.” It is like going through a buffet line, choosing what items you want and paying for just those items. You can hire an attorney to do many things that help you in your case such as:
- Review documents you have drafted and suggest changes and corrections.
- Draft documents for you to sign and then you go file with the court.
- Meet with you to go over your case and give you advice on what to do next.
- Meet with you prior to a hearing and help you organize yourself and give you some tips on what to do and not do in the court.
- Help you evaluate settlement offers so you know if the “deal” is a fair one.
The primary advantage to unbundled services is the cost. In terms of my fees, instead of a common retainer of $4,000 for a divorce, I will find out what exactly you need me to help with right now, and set retainer based on my estimate time to help you with those limited items. For instance, if the retainer is $900, that would pay for three hours of my time. The initial retainer depends completely on what tasks you need help with right away. If the retainer runs out and the client still needs my help, we set an additional retainer for work that they want done. If the client no longer needs my help, then I refund whatever retainer is left.
The disadvantage to hiring an attorney for unbundled services is that the attorney is not responsible to keep track of due dates, they won’t be keeping an eye on what documents are coming in or what you need to respond to, etc. You are still in charge of your case and just outsourcing some of the work that you need help with.
Sometimes people have hired me to do unbundled services, but mid-way through the case, they realize they need me to be fully involved. Then they pay the retainer for me to enter my appearance and be there for them full time.
There are certain parts of a family law case that I feel are particularly important to have some legal advice for:
- Filling out your sworn financial statement. This is one of the most important things that you will file. I have rarely seen one filled out by a non-attorney that didn’t need some correcting. The court will rely on this document for the important financial issues so it needs to be right.
- Parenting Plan – if both sides come to an agreement on issues related to the child, you will have to file a parenting plan. The state has an on-line version, however, it is very basic. If you can afford to have an attorney draft a comprehensive parenting plan, it will include many more details than the state version. It is a good use of money if you are able to do that. Attorneys make a lot of money trying to correct parenting plans that people drafted themselves using the court forms.
- Separation Agreement – if both sides come to an agreement on the financial issues, you will have to file a separation agreement. The state has a form on-line for this too, and it is also very basic. If you can afford to hire someone to draft a detailed separation agreement, it may save you thousands in the future in attorney’s fees.
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