Everyone’s favorite topic – how am I going to pay for this?
You probably have heard stories or even know someone that spent enormous sums on their Massachusetts divorce or other family law matter. Getting into an expensive divorce war is almost always a mistake. High conflict cases are usually driven by emotions, and mixing emotions and important financial decisions tends to be a bad combination. Even when a divorce or other matter is concluded, it is common that litigants continue to spar and file additional pleadings, further increasing legal fees.
We do not think this is the right approach for most people. There are better options for resolving your Massachusetts divorce, child support, or parenting case. If you let your emotions – especially anger and resentment – take charge, then buckle up and get those credit cards and checks ready for some large legal fees. Some people think they will get revenge or exert some form of payback by incurring lots of legal fees. Sometimes, these are the people who say they want to hire an aggressive divorce lawyer, although they probably do not understand what they are getting into.
In our experience, clients do not feel better about anything when they spend five and six figures on a divorce.
Hourly Billing (and why you will grow to hate it) vs. Fixed, Up-front Pricing
We don’t think your legal fees should be shrouded in mystery or based primarily on snippets of time. Hourly billing, the mainstay of the legal profession, brings with it a host of negatives, including the obvious lack of certainty and rewarding inefficient work habits and slow results.
Hourly billing can even lead to resentment between lawyers and their clients. For example, are you looking forward to paying for a minimum of 12 minutes (the typical standard for this region and practice area) for every email and telephone call? If your attorney or mediator has an hourly rate of $350.00, then that is $70.00 for something that was perhaps five minutes. It all adds up over the course of weeks, months, and even years.
As your retainer funds dissipate, you will be required to replenish them… and the pattern continues. You may even feel as though there is no end in sight.
A Better Approach: Up-front, Flat Fees
Many attorneys and mediators become nervous when talking about flat fees. This is because the system of hourly billing is genetically implanted into our minds at law school, and because most lawyers or mediators do not have experience with alternatives.
With hourly billing, attorneys know they will be paid for the work they do, assuming you – the client – pays. If you cannot keep up with your legal fees, a lawyer usually will withdraw from your case. Then, you are in a tough position and may not have enough money left for an initial retainer with a new attorney. More clients want alternatives to hourly billing. It has been and continues to be a hot topic in the legal industry.
True, there can be variables with court-based cases; such as how can your attorney predict every contingency, or account for the other side taking some extreme actions, such as trying to bury you with discovery requests and unnecessary hearings. With some thoughtfulness and by applying some parameters to the scope of the work, then risk can be fairly apportioned between you (the client) and the law firm responsible for the work.
Mediation has the benefit of allowing a fixed fee that can have little “padding” to account for potential surprises because there is less risk of things going off the rails when compared to a court-based matter.
We will discuss what fee options may be most efficient for your situation so you can make an informed decision, and in almost all instances, provide you with the option of an easy-to-understand flat fee. That may sound simple, but it is a key difference between us and most other firms.
Divorce Lawyer and Mediator Fees
Although a fixed fee may not be a good option for every case, we will work with you to develop a fee arrangement that is workable from your perspective and ours. Many of our divorce mediation clients take advantage of one of our flat-fee mediation packages saving thousands or even tens of thousands when compared to other options.
When it comes to your legal fees, we promise you the following:
- Transparent – Your written fee agreement will clearly explain the terms of our services and your fees.
- Choices – We may provide the option of traditional hourly billing or a flat fee for our services. Due to the variables with some legal matters, a fixed fee may not make sense for you or us, but sometimes a series of flat fees tied to certain events and stages in your case is a workable alternative. Overall, our focus continues to be on less hourly billing, and more project-based, flat fees.
- Travel time – Most attorneys charge their full hourly rate for time spent traveling to and from meetings and court on your behalf. We charge ½ that amount. If traffic is snarled, that’s not your fault so we don’t pass on the additional expense. If you meet with us at our satellite location in Mansfield, MA, we do not charge travel time.
- Published Hourly Rates – The current (2021) rate for Attorney and Mediator Stephen McDonough is $400.00 per hour. Paralegal time is billed at $140.00 per hour. Parenting coordination rates are $300.00 per hour.
- Low-Stress Location – Costs also include drains on your time and energy. Our Norfolk, MA office, located along Rt.115 and close to Rt. 109, has ample free parking. Forget about searching for a pricey space in a Boston parking garage or finding on-street parking. Also, our services are available remotely.
Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.