How Does One Pay for a Family Law Attorney?
I generally look to my client to pay my fee, while seeking (in contested cases) for the opposing party to reimburse my client his or her fees and costs. However, in every case, my client is expected to pay my initial retainer to begin work.
Almost all family court work requires an initial retainer against which I bill my hourly rate and pay any costs associated with the representation. These costs can include, but are not limited to, filing fees, service fees, transcript fees, witness fees, court reporter fees, motion fees and fees for obtaining and copying records related to the representation. When the retainer balance runs low, or the case is set for a contested trial, a new retainer is generally required.
In cases in which the matter is simple and uncontested and the scope of my representation is limited and clear, I will consider doing work for a flat fee. Other attorneys may be willing to handle more contested issues on a flat fee but I believe such a fee schedule creates an inherent conflict between the attorney and the client: the attorney may want to resolve the matter with a minimum of advocacy (to reduce the time spent on the matter) while the client may want to fight over every issue (as it does not cost the client anything extra to fight over all issues). Of course, billing by the hour has its own inherent conflict, as the attorney may want to spend as much time as possible on the matter in order to incur a larger fee. However, billing by the hour requires the client to determine what goals are worth paying an attorney to pursue and to prioritize these goals while encouraging the attorney to handle the matter as efficiently as possible.
In any contested family court action, each party can ask that the other pay their fees and costs and the court can award the prevailing party fees and costs. The factors the court considers are (1) the nature, extent, and difficulty of the case; (2) the time necessarily devoted to the case; (3) professional standing of counsel; (4) contingency of compensation; (5) beneficial results obtained; (6) customary legal fees for similar services. The court should also consider the parties’ ability to pay their own fee, the beneficial results obtained by the attorney, the parties’ respective financial conditions, and the effect of the fee on each party’s standard of living.
In actions to collect back child support or alimony, an attorney and client are allowed to enter a contingency fee arrangement. This agreement allows the attorney to be paid a fee as a percentage of what he or she collects from the opposing party. I have used contingency fee agreements to collect back child support and alimony to my client’s satisfaction. Such agreements must be in writing.
With few exceptions (ongoing representation; work that will be completed the day I start it) I require all my clients to execute a written fee agreement. Such a fee agreement will discuss the scope of my representation, the initial retainer, my hourly billing rate and various other factors related to the representation. My clients are always provided a copy of the retainer agreement. My typical domestic fee agreement can be downloaded here: Domestic fee agreement.
I will accept payment from third parties (friends, family) so long as both the third party and my client understand that my loyalty lies towards the client and that the third party has no right to intervene or obtain confidential information (except to the extent specifically authorized by my client). I will not accept payment from the opposing party (unless is it court ordered). This does not prevent my client from obtaining money from the opposing party to pay my fee or the parties agreeing to have the opposing party pay my fee and having that agreement made a court order (in that case, I will still be looking to my client to pay the initial retainer).
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