Why do lawyers charge such exorbitant amounts in family law matters?
It’s a compelling question and one I get asked quite a bit.
With present day fees for even the most junior of lawyers starting at around $300 per hour and senior lawyers and partners charging amounts north of $500-600 dollars plus, it can be a financially crippling experience retaining any family lawyer.
And family law cases very often involve at least one party that is vulnerable both emotionally and financially, so the decision to use a lawyer is one that a client makes only because they need expertise and a speedy resolution …so they can avoid being left penniless.
However, penniless is often what hirers of lawyers become.
Going into debt and selling assets to keep large legal bills in check seems to be a regular occurrence and clients are always faced with the prospect of a lawyer bailing out if their gargantuan fees aren’t met.
Even though lawyers seldom share the mystery behind the high fees, they might try to explain those fees to you something like this…
Well, I sacrificed a great deal and did a lot of training to get to the position I am in today as an experienced family lawyer. Some may even use the title “accredited family law specialist” when speaking of such “experience”, even though that simply means a lawyer who’s been around for a while and sat for a short 3 hour accreditation test. (Sorry I had put the length of the test in as one newly minted specialist wasn’t happy with me referring to 3 hours as “short”. Go figure!)
They might also put their fees down to their on-going requirement to attend costly continual professional development; their indemnity insurance (in case you sue them) and the renewal costs relating to their memberships and practicing certificates.
Additionally, when you walk into that lovely office with the friendly receptionist, the helpful paralegal and the shiny buttoned Chesterfield sofas, you can imagine that too adds to the price point!
But the hourly fee never includes all the “extras” that end up on your toilet roll length invoice. These often include the filing fees, the stationary costs, the postage, and the one that gives me a real laugh- the $4 a page photocopying. And don’t forget every cost, including the lawyers fee, attracts the 10% GST.
So is the product or service that you get worth the cost?
I truly believe in about 30% of matters, where there is a real complexity, difficult negotiations or large property settlements, it is.
As one commentator noted, when you sign a retainer agreement with your lawyer, you are assigning your worries and problems to them – so that you can go home, spend some time with your family and sleep peacefully in the knowledge that your lawyer has in fact ‘got this’.
Meanwhile, that really good lawyer is busting their ass stressing about your deadlines; completing all that tricky paperwork; writing your highly impressive affidavit with all your evidence neatly laid out the way the court requires it; dealing with your uncomfortable phone calls; and doing that negotiating on your behalf so your matter can be resolved.
And when your matter is highly complex and you’re out of your depth, they are worth every penny.
What about the other 70% of cases that I hear about day in day out? These are the people who often turn to me when their lawyer has not done much, or convinced them to fight a losing battle rather than negotiate, or been a poor communicator; or even worse, left them high and dry once the bills can’t be paid.
I have lost count of the people who have a poor impression of these members of my fraternity.
So what’s the best way to avoid the sky high fees?
The two solutions that come to mind are:
Fixed fee agreements
or… the most cost effective way-
Self representing with document/drafting assistance and court coaching like we do at The Legal Eagle.
Fixed fee agreements
These agreements mean you don’t have to worry about essentially signing a blank cheque for your lawyer to rack up billable hours. These types of agreements would generally be available for work such as preparing leases and legal wills, conveyancing and divorce applications.
There are various kinds of fixed fee arrangements, including where the client pays a lump sum up front, ‘staged’ payments at various points and ‘capped’ fees where there’s a guaranteed maximum total price for the whole case.
Lewis-Dermody recommends opting for a fixed fee agreement wherever possible, as lawyers can be under pressure from their employer to inflate clients’ bills due to the internal performance targets they’ve been set.
Most people have tremendous capacity to self represent with the right background help and assistance. It can be a little intimidating turning up to court but if all your documents and applications have been prepared by an experienced legal drafter you will feel pretty confident in court. You see getting the docs right is the key because these often relate to what you want from the court (your application and orders) and the evidence (your affidavit) you have to back that application up.
Good legal drafters also tend to be experienced lawyers, yet don’t charge nearly as much as a full service lawyer because they are not officially retained by a client to do court work and give extensive advice.
Finally, there are those cowboy (and girl) lawyers who offer deals that say “no win, no fee”. Seriously Eaglets, avoid these ones like the plague. They are only interested in sure wins and if you do reach their easy win criteria (and they resolve your matter) you will pay such a high percentage fee that they will be laughing all the way to the bank with YOUR settlement money.
Gosh… that’s a nice Chesterfield sofa! $$$$$$
If you need assistance and want to self represent, let us help you.
We take a genuine interest in the outcome you need… and our rates are very reasonable.
Our lawyer Mark has been helping self representers with their documents for over 6 years.
You can make a FREE appointment HERE or drop our wonderful lead paralegal Abbey a line – abbey@TheLegalEagle.com.au