How much does a good lawyer cost?

It depends on many factors, such as the venue (county) of the family law action, whether the opposing party hires a competent lawyer to contest the action, and the complexity of the issues involved. But you probably knew that already. I am sure you are saying, “Cut to the chase and let me know what I’m looking at here.”

I will tell you the tale of two cases. “It was the best of times, and the worst of times…” Joan had limited funds. When her wealthy CEO husband had cut her off from all the family bank accounts and credit cards in anticipation of their separation, she quickly borrowed money from family and friends to hire me. Joan’s husband thought that cutting off her funds would leave her unable to hire a good lawyer for the divorce. But Joan’s family and friends would not let that happen.

After talking with other “discount” attorneys and “family law mills”, Joan discovered that I was about 30% more than those less experienced, less caring law firms. But instead of handling her case as an assembly line, and instead of treating Joan as a number, within weeks, I had Joan’s case in front of a judge for a temporary hearing. I obtained her temporary support that kept her in a standard of living to which she was accustomed. I obtained her temporary use and possession of the marital home (forcing her husband to vacate the home). I obtained her temporary attorney fees, so that she could repay the loans she had taken to retain me. Her husband, who hired a more expensive nationwide firm with a sharp, national marketing campaign, quickly settled the case after realizing that things would not go well for him in court. So, Joan paid less than her husband and received a better result. Now, Joan did have the wisdom and foresight not to hire an inexperienced “discount firm” at $1,000 less…and thank God she didn’t. If she had she would have likely received thousands less in her settlement. She would have likely lost much more money than she would have saved.

Then, there is the story of Brett. In his divorce case, Brett went with an attorney with about five years of experience. He saved about $1,000 in upfront attorney’s fees. He thought that he got a decent deal in the divorce. Of course, it was his first divorce, and he did not know any better. He did not know that his attorney miscalculated child support by not giving Brett all the deviations and adjustments that Brett could have received.

Brett came to me about five years later for a child support modification. He paid me about $1,500 more than his previous attorney in upfront fees, but upon review of his case, I discovered that he had been paying about $175 more per month in support than he should have been paying. Over a five-year period that amounted to more than $10,000. With that money, Brett could have established a nice college fund for his child. With that money, he could have bought his child a car when she turned sixteen. Was Brett truly happy five years later that he saved a couple grand on his divorce? NO WAY! He was very regretful that just a little more money back then would have purchased a much better lawyer…and a much better result.

Nonetheless, I immediately went to work for Brett trying to undo the mess that was made by his prior lawyer. My firm obtained Brett not only the elimination of child support, but we proved that he was the better custodial parent for the child and obtained him custody of his daughter. He was ecstatic, and his daughter thrived in a much better environment. I only wish that I could have represented Brett in his divorce, as the result for Brett would have been much different.

The moral of the stories is this: a good attorney will cost you, but it does not have to break the bank. Go with an attorney who is an authority on family law. Go with an attorney who you feel you can trust. Go with an attorney that understands the real-people needs of each family law case and that has the interpersonal skills to negotiate a good deal or to persuade the judge to your side. It may cost a couple thousand dollars more in the short-term, but it will make a fortune of difference in the long-term.

And please, do not hire an attorney with the personality of a brick, or an attorney who is as abrasive as sandpaper. Family law requires interpersonal skills. Family law requires negotiating. Family law requires persuasion. Hire an attorney that can set people at ease, demonstrate his competence through action, and find innovative solutions to difficult problems. That is the attorney that will obtain the best result…and that attorney will cost significant dollars, but it is worth it in the long run.

A family law case is not like buying a pair of socks. There are no “super shopper awards”. The results of a family law case will impact you and your children for years to come. Even children that you don’t have yet are affected by your reduction in wealth accumulation over time. Therefore, hiring a good, authoritative attorney is worth the few extra dollars to accomplish the best possible result.

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