Attorney Fees and Costs
WHAT YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT ATTORNEYS FEES AND COSTS, BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK.
Being involved in a marriage dissolution - whether it is your idea or not - is a very traumatic experience. It combines the unexpected deterioration of one's primary relationship with an unwanted encounter with an unfamiliar legal system. It is a system which is foreign to most people's experience.
At the law office of Dittrich & Lawrence, P.A., we are well-prepared to be your friendly guides through this system. We see our role in representing you as bringing humanity to a sometimes inhumane process; being sensitive listeners at a time when those around you may seem indifferent. We want to be empathetic to your feelings and useful in solving your problems. We want to help you though this difficult period with as much dignity and fairness as is possible.
In order for us to do our job, we will form a business relationship with you - as client and attorney. Naturally there are many questions you might well want answered before we begin that relationship. Here are answers to some of the questions that experience tells us you are likely to have:
You are expecting a straight answer and already we must hedge. Unfortunately, the reality is that it is simply not possible to tell anyone how much a marriage dissolution will cost. There is no flat fee and no two cases are alike. It is more like going to a doctor and asking how much they will charge to cure your stomach pain.
Your fees will be charged largely on a time and effort basis. Each of us have an hourly billing rate, we will keep track on a computer of what we do on your case and how long it takes, and you will be billed accordingly on a monthly basis. Some cases present emergencies that require us to interrupt other work, or involve complicated financial circumstances or assets that present increased responsibility, or involve unusually complicated legal issues. These might result in an adjustment to the fees.
No. We cannot give you an estimate at the outset for the reasons stated above. Even if we were to mention a "ball park" figure, experience tells us that is what you will remember and you will be upset if your case costs more because of unexpected additional effort that was required.
The truth is, we have relatively little control over the amount of time and effort a "typical" dissolution takes. You could be the world's most reasonable person, but if you are married to a disagreeable spouse who is not willing to disclose information voluntarily or make an agreement, there isn't much your attorney can do about that. We would just have to utilize our legal tools to get the Court to compel disclosure of the information and move the case forward.
Yes. Each of the attorneys has one rate for "office" time and another rate for "court" time. The practice of law in a courtroom is a highly developed skill, which involves not only education and training, but a lot of hard-earned experience as well.
One of the ways in which we are able to reduce the cost of marriage dissolution proceedings and other family law matters is by the use of legal assistants, sometimes called "paralegals." Not all work associated with preparing a case for settlement or trial requires a law degree. Our legal assistants are very knowledgeable and experienced in family law matters. Using their talents is cost effective for you.
Yes, time is time. Abraham Lincoln is quoted as having said, "A lawyer's time is his stock in trade." If we are talking to you on the phone, we cannot be doing work for another client at the same time. The same is true of e-mail contact. It takes us time to review and respond to e-mails from our clients and you will be charged for that time.
Generally, yes. However, there will be no charge if the purpose and subject of your initial consultation is simply to spend a few minutes with us learning about our level of experience and expertise, our philosophy and methods of handling cases, or seeing if you think we could work well together. However, if the purpose of the initial consultation is to seek our advice about your situation and your facts, you will be charged at our regular hourly rates for the time involved.
A retainer fee is a deposit, or advance payment from you, which we will deposit into a separate trust account, against which we will charge our work in your case, and for which we will account to you monthly. We may later ask for an additional retainer if the original sum deposited turns out to be inadequate. We do not have a standard set retainer rate. The amount of the retainer fee differs from case to case depending upon things like the anticipated complexity of the case, the amount of financial responsibility involved, the client's ability to pay, the amount of work that must be done at the outset, etc..
Keep in mind that we cannot undertake representation unless there is a creditable plan by which attorney's fees and costs can be paid.
Yes, VISA, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express cards may be used both for retainers and monthly account payments.
There is a filing fee charged by the Court Administrator in every case to each of the parties. These fees are the most common costs; they have nothing to do with attorney's fees.
In some cases, appraisals of real estate or personal property might be needed. Sometimes the services of a Certified Public Accountant or other financial expert might also be needed. You would be expected to advance the funds for those expenses. We occasionally need to get certified copies of documents, or pay to have documents served. You will be expected to reimburse us for such items.
Having retainer agreements in writing helps avoid later misunderstandings. Moreover, the State Board of Professional Responsibility for Lawyers strongly encourages the use of such agreements.
We will not necessarily be very happy, but generally we will be willing to work out an arrangement with you for payments over a reasonable period of time while the case is pending. We recognize that in some instances our clients do not have enough current income or immediately available assets to pay our fee promptly. Unpaid fees accrue interest at the rate of 8% per annum until paid.
It is important, however, for you to work with us in such an event. We can be patient for clients who are genuinely in a temporarily difficult position and are willing to make very regular monthly payments. On the other hand, we are lawyers, not bankers, and do not want to carry our clients' obligations long after their cases are over.
Unfortunately the answer is very likely "no." Minnesota is a "no-fault" state, as are most states these days. the reality is that your spouse is not going to be punished by an award of attorneys fees. The Court does have the power to order one party to pay all or a part of the other's fees in dissolution cases - if that is necessary for one party to be able to afford to be adequately represented. The test in that instance is usually relative incomes or consideration of the overall amount of assets to be divided in the case. The Court also has the power to award "conduct-based fees" when one party is found to have unreasonably extended the length or expense of the proceedings.
In summary, please keep in mind that we are operating a private business, not a publicly-funded legal aid clinic. We regularly incur substantial payroll, rent, and other overhead expenses to be able to provide what we believe are the most caring family law services in the state for our clients. We all depend upon our income to house, feed, cloth, and educate our families. It follows that we must receive payment for the services that we perform.
Our business is helping you - but it is, nevertheless, a business.