Tips for Managing your Legal Costs and Saving Money in Divorce and Children Disputes

By Punam Denley of Blanchards Law.

Blanchards Law is a niche family law practice with divorce solicitors, mediators and collaborative lawyers.

Can we help you? Please call us on 0845 658 6639 or email us at pd@blanchardslaw.co.uk

 

I was driven to write this blog by the experience of a client recently who told me that he had spent £87,000 in legal fees with another firm trying to renegotiate the maintenance payable to his ex-wife under a consent order. It made me wonder just how much he had saved overall and whether it had been a cost-effective exercise.

So here are some tips about getting the right advice at the right price.

1.            Choosing the firm

Often, solicitors do not represent value for money. High charging rates are no guarantee of success. Solicitors firms are in the business of making money, and the client is the cash cow.

 

Don’t necessarily go to the well-known large firm in the City or to someone who has been mentioned or quoted in a national newspaper. Just because they may be at such a firm is no guarantee of expertise or experience. There are a number of points to be made here, which solicitors don’t necessarily want you to know:

 

  • Large firms mean big overheads and therefore heavy targets on the lawyers employed there. That means that they have to make the firm a lot of money over the year through their hourly rates. It’s you the client who pays these hefty rates and keeps these firms in business.
  • Don’t be impressed by someone being a ‘Partner’ in the firm. All that can mean is that the number crunchers have decided that they can justify charging higher hourly rates for a partner than for an assistant or an associate. What’s more important is the solicitor’s experience. So, research is very important. People go to the yellow pages or other telephone directory, ask your friends and family and search the internet. Google the person you are considering. Find out how long they’ve been practising, any other professional qualifications (mediator, collaborative lawyer, arbitrator) or membership of family organisations. We have both a mediation and collaborative law service here. If you can’t find this information, ask. Don’t feel embarrassed to do so. I never feel offended if a client requests these things.
  • A solicitor being named in a newspaper or magazine is usually as a result of a paid arrangement, but you won’t find it identified as an advertisement. The marketing people at the firm will enlist a PR company to get their firm/ named person into the paper. Don’t be fooled by this into thinking that that person will get you a better result.
  • First impressions do count. You need to deal with this person on a day to day basis and you are employing them to do one of the most important jobs in your life. You are entitled to choose carefully.
  • Above all, trust your instincts. A lower charging rate doesn’t mean value for money either, especially if they’re a Jack of All Trades, and you may have an expensive battle to put right what they have done wrong. Do seek a second opinion if you are unsure about the advice you are receiving. Lots of solicitors will give a free half hour of advice, me included.
  • If you later lose confidence in your lawyer or feel you’ve made the wrong choice for whatever reason, don’t stick with them in the hope things will improve. Experience shows that it’s difficult to rescue a rapport once it’s broken down.

 

 

2.            Run your case differently

Don’t use your lawyer for everything. Think about alternative ways to run your case. Traditionally a client will come in to see a solicitor and pass the whole thing over to them, but what about acting for yourself and taking advice when you need it? These arrangements are becoming much more common and solicitors are more accustomed to them.

  • The first step always is to inform you. Have a thorough meeting with a solicitor to get advice on what outcome you can expect in a case such as yours. Be aware that there are few hard and fast rules in family law, and there are often wide parameters as to what might be an appropriate settlement. Do listen to that advice. Your solicitor will have experience of how the courts will view what you are saying. Your solicitor should be empathetic but firm.
  • Keep channels of communication open with your spouse and save money. I’ve been told countless times by solicitors on the other side of a case that my client shouldn’t contact their spouse directly, and that all communication should go through solicitors. All that serves to do is make more money for the lawyers. My advice is talk to your spouse. Once you’ve both had advice about a fair settlement, financial or otherwise, try to negotiate around the kitchen table, if you can.
  • Take control and you will save money and heartache. You are the client and you should be in the driving seat; not your solicitor. Remember that the tone they set at the beginning of the case can rule your relationship with your partner for the rest of your life. If they are unnecessarily aggressive, your spouse will think that is on your instructions, and that can get their back up. Insist on reading all letters before they go out so you know what’s happening. This is your case.
  • You might be thinking about mediation (not to be confused with reconciliation), where you and your spouse sit down in the same room with a neutral third party to discuss your case. If you are able to talk to your spouse, this is a very good way to resolve your differences. We have a mediator at this practice. However be aware that a mediator can’t draw up your order for the court; you will need a lawyer for that.
  • Go back to your lawyer when you have an agreement so they can advise you if anything isn’t quite right, or if there are other points to consider. They can then put it into a proper order, get it signed by your spouse and the other party and get it lodged at court as a paper exercise, without the need for anyone to go to court.

 

3.            Negotiate on Costs and Save Money

The first thing to say here is that you are entitled to an estimate of costs at the beginning of your case and regularly throughout it. You should receive bills at regular intervals. You can ask for an up to date costs figure at any point. At this firm we bill every month or more frequently if a significant piece of work has been done. This is a professional obligation to which law firms have to adhere, and if we don’t, we may have difficulties if we get into a dispute about costs with you later. So don’t be afraid to ask and insist on knowing how much it’s going to cost you. Then work out if the firm is the right one for you.

 

  • Try to negotiate on hourly rates. Most firms will have a range of rates that they won’t tell you about. If their rates are still too high, ask them to recommend someone cheaper, either at their firm or elsewhere. Solicitors will normally have referral arrangements with another firm.
  • See if you can agree a fixed fee for your case. These are becoming more common and may well save you a considerable amount.
  • Insist on having just one solicitor run your case. Many law firms will have two or even three different people at meetings with you and at court. They do this because they can charge you more. You don’t need to have more than one “fee earner” at a time. Anyone else is just an expensive note taker.
  • Try not to treat your lawyer as your friend/ therapist/ social worker on too regular a basis. This will happen, as your lawyer is the one person who truly understands what you’re going through. However, not only can this become very expensive, but you might feel very let down at the end of your case when your solicitor isn’t prepared to chat to you for free.
  • Don’t contact your solicitor for the smallest thing and at every opportunity. You will be charged for every email and telephone call in and out. These mount up very quickly and expensively. I often tell clients to save up their thoughts and send me a weekly email.
  • Be aware that lawyers round everything up in units. They normally charge in 6 minute increments, so if you’ve been on the phone with them for 7 minutes, you may well be billed for 12 minutes. Try to keep your interactions short; don’t worry about pleasantries or chat. Their time is your money.
  • Solicitors will often want to bring in barristers or ‘Counsel’ to advise. A barrister is a self-employed trained advocate, who charges a fixed rate for representing you in court or advising you in a meeting. A solicitor will charge an hourly rate. If your solicitor proposes instructing a barrister, ask why. Plenty of solicitors do not feel confident speaking in court, and that may be the reason. If so, ask if the solicitor has to be at court too, and if you can go with the barrister alone. This is particularly the case on short court appointments, of say 30 minutes or so. There is no rule that barristers have to be accompanied by a solicitor on all hearings.

 

 

 

  1. Conclusion

 

Embarking upon legal proceedings is always going to be an unwelcome expense, but there are ways to minimise your fees and still obtain the best possible outcome for you.

 

If you have questions about your current representation, case or fees, Please give us a call on a free, no obligation basis, and we will be happy to discuss these and our charging structure with you.

 

©Punam Denley

pd@blanchardslaw.co.uk