What If I Hire a Divorce Lawyer

I was tempted to cover my family law, personal injury, and civil trial practice in one article. That will not work. They are different, and deserve their own space, as does the mediation process.

Today, I focus on the process of hiring me and achieving your “fresh start” in life via divorce. For reference, you may want to read “Divorce 101 – Handout, Oct 5. 20111 – http://tinyurl.com/b4h7ggw .

Here is how it goes:

1. I WILL discuss your case with you, in some detail, over the phone. I like to chat. I am good at it. I can answer questions. I am willing to take the risk of the cynical person who calls around just to knock a lawyer out of a potential case by a conflict. Some day I may change, but for now you can have 10-20 minutes of my time and a quotation of my fee over the phone.

2. I have 5-10 questions to ask you before you get to “tell your story”, such as:

a, What county?;
b. Length of marriage?;
c. Number and age of children?;
d. Serious issues of fitness, substance abuse, physical abuse, mental abuse, sexual abuse, or danger?:
e. Assuming parents are fit, what was the approximate share of the “caretaking functions” each parent provided the child/ren during the one year period and two year period prior to separation? This is a big one;
f. Type of property? Real estate? Personal property? Property acquired during the marriage? And property acquired by inheritance or by gift from someone outside of the marriage?;
g. Values of the property?;
h. Amount and nature of your debts? Is it secured by property? Or is it unsecured?;
i. What is the caller’s main immediate problem or concern?;
k. Is there an alternative to a divorce; and,
l.  Has either party already filed?

3. From there,  we can move to a range of issues. Whether you can afford a lawyer?; how long to obtain your retainer?; are you hoping to move away or keep a spouse from moving with the children?; are you in immediate danger?; is there a pending domestic violence petition, a DV order, or a pending criminal charge, a girlfriend, or boyfriend, etc.?

4. If you will answer those questions, I will quote a retainer, usually one that is sufficient to get us through settlement negotiations or mediation. 80% of cases settle at that stage.

5. I will quote an up front retainer. Part of that retainer is based on an hourly fee and part on my experience, discounts, and other factors. Typical retainers are $1050; $2050; $2850; $3500; or $5000. I will quote the fee, based on my experience, by number and seriousness of the pending issues.

6. $1050 of my fee is a consultation fee/retainer with a built in discount for all but the simplest cases. As an example, let’s pick the middle rate of $2850. I usually agree that no further fee will be charged unless we go over, in combined services and costs, $3350. After that, I usually agree to discount my hourly rate by 25%, or at least $50 per hour.

7. That “double discount”, the $500 cushion and the reduced hourly rate, and my vast experience, and other factors, entitle me to have the minimum consultation fee of $1050 to be non-refundable.

8. In other words:

a. If I do $1850 worth of services and costs, you get a $1000 refund;
b. If I do $2850 worth of services and costs, you are charged $2850; no refund due;
c. If I do $3350 worth of services and costs, the $2850 retainer covers it;
d. If I do $5000 worth of services and costs, at my usual rate of $200/hr. (but probably soon to increase a bit), you pay the $2850 plus, less $500 for the first discount, less 25% of the unpaid balance, which equals $4085.50 paid for $5000 in services and costs. Get it? If not, read this paragraph again.

9. It sounds a bit complicated, but clients understand it.  We reduce the fee agreement it to writing and give the client a copy. Clients appreciate the “double discount” and my willingness to “share the pain” if the case does not settle.

10. In the office, for our first interview, we spend around two hours together.

11. I educate you on the law.

12. I ascertain more essential facts.

13. I share with your my proprietary, and the WV Supreme Court’s mandated, intake forms. (I give you the “worksheets” described in my blog post “More About Organizing Your Case”; http://tinyurl.com/ctcvsew   .

14. These forms create the structure that let’s me identify the people, documents, things, events, and places that make up your case.

15. We put together a game plan:

a. We decide where will you stay after you file?;
b. Will you tell your spouse ahead of time?;
c. What do you do under certain contingencies?;
d. Do you need a safety plan?; or to file a domestic violence petition?
e. Will there be a “tug of war” over the children;
f. Then, you are assigned “home work”. The better job you do, the more savings you will have. The more work you do, the less you have to pay the lawyer.  Be prepared to work in order to protect yourself, your rights, and your children.

16. At the end of that first interview, the client often says, “I feel much better now.” And so he or she should feel. They have a plan and an attorney with the staff, facilities, and experience to help them carry out that plan.
17. Sometimes it is a “piece of cake”, or the lawyer makes it look that way. At other times, it is “a war”. My opponents should know that they do not want a war with me. I have the scars to show I can fight hard and fair for a just result.

If you have read this far, you have a very accurate picture of what it is like to hire me as your lawyer. Once the facts are collected, settlement overtures made, temporary issues addressed, mediation scheduled and attended, and even a trial conducted, you will ready for the next challenges in your life as a single person!




This post was written by Burton Hunter


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