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Legal Fee FAQs

Legal Fee FAQs

Do you have legal fee Questions?

We have compiled a list of questions we hear regularly from our clients regarding legal fees and have provided the answers below.

  1. Retainer Fee Structure (Hourly Time Based Billing)
    • A retainer fee is simply a down payment to cover some of the divorce or family law attorney’s fees and the other costs of the case. Most lawyers bill this way and charge for their services by the hour.  They use their hourly rate to calculate the retainer fee by multiplying it by the expected number of hours they will work.  Some lawyers will also use different hourly rates depending on the nature of work. For example, a lawyer may charge $270 per hour for legal research and $350 to appear in court. However, some lawyers also have a flat rate to simplify billing for their clients.
    • Time based legal fees earned on retainer are used for most of the matters that we handle. Our office uses the latest technology to track and record all client work in detail. At the end of every billing cycle the client has the opportunity to review the bill prior to incurring any fees.  We offer competitive billing rates, and the rate is dependent on the complexity of the matter.
  2. Flat Fee
    • We offer limited assistance representation in In some cases, you do not need to answer the question how much is a retainer fee for a divorce or family law lawyer. You may not need to pay a retainer for a divorce lawyer. Some lawyers may charge a flat fee instead of an hourly rate. This set amount covers the entire case.
    • The fee depends on the type of case and may change depending on circumstances. For example, a divorce attorney may charge $2000 for an uncontested divorce, with the provision that they will charge by the hour if it switches to a contested case in the middle of proceedings.
    • Flat fees are relatively uncommon because they require both parties to be in complete agreement on all the terms of the case.
    • Be sure to read reviews of a law firm online before engaging in dealings with them, and read the fine print before signing a fee agreement of any kind. A retainer fee for a divorce lawyer may be the better option if you are unsure about what the flat fee covers.
  3. Consultation Fee
    • A consultation fee is a fee paid in advance for any meetings needed to discuss your case if we have not yet been retained to represent you.
    • Fixed fees are available for most legal matters.
    • The fee is dependent on the specific matter. The fee is arrived at after we understand the client’s needs and services requested.
    • Fixed fees are available for both contested and uncontested matters. The fee is paid in advance and includes all agreed upon items. Fixed fees allow the client to not worry about the expense of a divorce throughout the process. Additionally, some clients prefer knowing that they will not be individually charged for every separate contact with the firm.

We all have expenses for things that we do not expect. We do not anticipate getting sick or hurt; however, if we need medical care, we are required to pay the medical bills. If you are involved in a divorce or other type of family court case and choose to be represented by counsel, you are expected to pay for those legal services even if you have no desire to be divorced or be brought to family court.

Lawyers are professionals who run a business which has overhead and other costs. Supply and demand as well as the location of a law firm all influence what the legal fees will be. Lawyers, who are in great demand, have family law expertise or legal certifications generally charge higher fees. Attorneys located in large metropolitan areas like the Greater Boston area are usually more expensive.

It is impossible to predict how much a divorce or other family court case will cost with any degree of certainty. However, your attorney may be able to provide an estimated range of the fees. The final cost is dependent on several factors, many beyond your lawyer’s control. These factors include the lawyer that your spouse hires, the complexity of the issues in your case, how you and your spouse behave during the family court litigation, and whether your case proceeds to a full trial on the merits. As a general rule, the more issues you and your spouse can agree upon, the lower your legal fees will be.

Yes! First, be actively involved in your case. Take the time to learn and understand what’s going on. Ask questions. Follow your lawyer’s instructions and be truthful with your lawyer at all times. Volunteer to help with the work whenever possible. Have reasonable expectations of your lawyer and your case. Seek ways to settle your issues. Don’t insist on fighting to the bitter end over small issues. When talking to your lawyer, avoid long detailed dramatic stories unless your lawyer indicates they need the details.

In a divorce case, a court may order a spouse to contribute to the fees of the other spouse based upon a disparity of financial resources or unreasonable positions and/or conduct during the case. However, seeking and obtaining that type of order does not change your obligation to pay the balance that you owe to your own lawyer. Many lawyers do not accept cases on the possibility that the other spouse will be required to pay. If you have to file a contempt action against your ex for not following court orders, your attorney can ask for attorney’s fees as a sanction for the non-compliance.

Abraham Lincoln said, “A lawyer’s time and advice is his stock in trade.” This adage is still true. Time spent talking on the phone, or reading your e-mail, is just as valuable as the other time your lawyer spends on your case. There are several ways you can minimize fees for phone calls. Accumulate several questions, write them down and ask them all during one call. E-mail may be more effective as several specific questions can be dealt with more efficiently than a long phone call. If a phone call is needed, stay on point.

If you don’t have money to hire experts, you may have no choice but to proceed without experts. It may also be possible to get a court order for expert’s fees to be advanced by your ex, but don’t count on it. In any event, keep in mind it is not your lawyer’s obligation to pay for the necessary experts in your case.

No one can guarantee that your spouse will honor agreements or court orders. Courts will enforce orders if an appropriate request is made. Typically, there will be additional legal costs for enforcement actions, and it is not the lawyer’s responsibility to ensure that parties abide by the original agreements and court orders.

If you cannot afford a lawyer, you can get legal information and self-help tools from the Massachusetts statewide website MassLegalHelp.org. This website contains information for unrepresented people that is clear and easy to understand. You can learn about many of the most common civil legal problems, including divorce and family law, in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Russian, Haitian Creole and Chinese. This website can help you understand your situation better and help you take the necessary steps to solve your problem.

You can also get information from MassLegalServices.org. This website is intended for legal services advocates, but you may find it helpful, especially if you are going to a hearing on your own.

If you have a case in Middlesex County and are income eligible, you may be able to have the a volunteer lawyer review your paperwork or give you legal advice at the Lowell Lawyer for the Day program.  You can access the calendar at lawyerforthedaylowell.org.


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