When you hire a family law attorney, your fee agreement should set out the types of services the lawyer will perform for you, the type of fees that will be charged, and the amount you will be expected to pay. The agreement should also identify how other costs will be handled, and should explain the lawyer's billing practices.
In your initial meeting with your lawyer you should discuss the lawyer's fees and the fee arrangement. Your discussions with your lawyer about fees and costs might cover the following topics:
- Type of Fee Arrangement: How will the lawyer bill? Will the lawyer bill on an hourly basis, or will you pay a retainer fee?
- Type of Permissible Costs: Which costs are properly passed on to you? Will you have to pay for copying costs? How much per page? Will you be responsible for electronic research charges?
- Estimated Fees and Costs: What will the case cost? The lawyer may not be able to determine the exact amount of time and effort required to handle your case, but should be in a position to give you an estimate based upon past experience.
- Frequency and Detail: You should find out how often you will be billed and whether interest or other charges will be added to unpaid amounts. The lawyer's bills should include details of the services provided along with an itemization of costs.
- Basic Charges: If the lawyer charges by the hour, you should find out the minimum billing segment. Is it one-quarter or one-tenth of an hour or some other figure? For example, a lawyer may bill you for a tenth of an hour (six minutes) for a simple three minute telephone call. You should also find out whether you will be billed for work by others -- associates, legal assistants, or paralegals.
- Control: How much control will you have over fees and expenses? Do you want to be notified after fees and expenses reach a certain amount? Do you want to be notified before the lawyer incurs an expense over a certain amount?
You might want to take notes during your discussions so you can know what terms you and the lawyer agreed upon. Based on your discussions, you should have the fee arrangement put in writing. The lawyer may have a pre-printed fee agreement for you to sign. If the agreement does not include the terms your discussed with the lawyer, ask the lawyer to change the language. The agreement should state clearly what you and the lawyer agreed to do.