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Bring Your Clients Value and Don’t Get in Trouble Doing It

| Categories Family Law

 An attorney is not helping the division of the marital estate if the attorney is taking the marital estate in by way of attorney fees. Consider that the normal divorce case is going to be split pretty equally (just proportions in practice is somewhat equal) as far as value is concerned between the two parties. The attorney should aim to keep fees under at least 2.5% of the value of the marital estate. Why, because your services will not likely tilt the wheel either way much more than that, so 2.5% is the threshold where your services become unproductive or lack value. 

     It’s important to advise a new client looking to divorce of the cost of the litigation and attorney fees. Some people simply cannot afford divorce and need to explore reconciliation a bit further. If an attorney fails to advise their client about what the divorce cost long term really will be then you might end up with a client that would have tried harder to salvage their marriage had they understood the financial end of divorce. A discussion of the emotional and economic role of divorce should include, how are you going to feel if you have to pay attorney’s fees, have you considered the cost of supporting two households, and the percentage of the marital estate’s value that makes sense to contribute towards attorney fees. 

     Attorney’s should not participate in vindictive behaviors. We are not puppets. If we feel something is wrong, we shouldn’t do it, but if the other side is running up fees, we should be able to get them back. Clients need to know the cost of retaliatory conduct. Ask your client something akin to “are you really sure you want to pay me [insert dollar amount] to prove this point, when you know the judge is never going to call your former spouse a jerk and it will not impact the outcome?” Usually, the answer is “well when you put it that way.” 

     Understand what your client thinks will bring them value. Attorneys can avoid a lot of unhappy customers if we have a frank discussion with potential clients up front about how the attorney handles cases, including what the attorney will and will not do regarding vindictive conduct or actions likely to adversely affect the children’s interests. If the client seems unwilling or even hesitant about accepting the attorney’s limitations and preferred moral approach to cases, decline the representation. In other words, let the client know that no amount of fees will cause you to do what they are wanting and part ways before there is a big bill and a disappointed client. 

     Litigation is expensive and emotionally draining. Clients should be advised early on about committing to resolve things. They need to understand what it is they may obtain from court early on also, so they know what they are fighting for and investing in with their attorney fees. If they don’t know what to expect from trial, they have no idea whether or not your fees are worth it. 

     Parties also need to be made aware of often Parties in divorce litigation don’t follow court orders. Even if you get a big win in the court order, you may lose every dime of it trying to enforce the order. Parties are more likely to abide by their own promises than by an outcome they hate imposed upon them by a court order. Clients also have to understand that they can’t get money out of a dry well. 

   Parties to matrimonial cases have to deal with each other for years to come after they leave the courtroom. Asking for someone to pay the other parties’ attorney fees may often make them feel that they cannot seek recourse in court freely. The divorce attorneys approach to resolving a domestic relations problem is crucial to the future emotional and financial health of the family.