Legal Fees: Who, What, Why, When and How Much?

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  2. Legal Fees: Who, What, Why, When and How Much?
Legal Fees: Who, What, Why, When and How Much?

Ex-It Strategy
Podcast 40

Elizabeth Stephenson, Sarah Hink, Jen Bordeaux

Elizabeth: Hi, it’s Elizabeth Stevenson.

Sarah: And Sarah Hink. We are the partners and podcasters at New Direction Family Law.

Elizabeth: And we were talking about money.

Sarah: Yes, initial money…

Elizabeth: Initial money.

Sarah: On the call with us… and Jen’s gonna help us with this one. You need to talk to an attorney. You call up an attorney’s office. And we wanna set you up with an initial consultation. We’ll talk about what that is, and then also why that initial consultation costs money.

Jen: Yes. And just why…

Sarah: And Jen’s very knowledgeable on this. Jen runs the intake process for the firm and set that all up, which is a really great process for people who call in. I think other people will call firms and they won’t get answers, they won’t get replies. And Jen’s built the system to make sure that we are responsive to you. And you can find out if you call our firm, you know what that consultation is, what it covers, the price, et cetera. Or you can just listen to this episode because we’ll have lots of information for you.

Elizabeth: Yeah, that too. That too.

Jen: Yeah. To your point, we get, people all the time say, Hey, thanks for answering the phone, first of all. Or if it’s an online lead, thanks for getting back to me so quickly. Which is great for us; that’s the standard of care that people are used to…

Elizabeth: Or lack of.

Jen: Yeah. But it’s also sad because when people are going through these situations, all the uncertainty is killing you and you want answers and you want to be able to move forward and start figuring out what you can do. But yeah, starting off with…these are just some frequent last questions we get surrounding initial consultations, fees, legal fees, moving forward, all that good stuff. So I’m starting off with why do I have to pay for an initial consultation? I think…

Elizabeth: Can I back up?

Jen: Yeah.

Elizabeth: Can you explain what initial consultation is?

Jen: Absolutely. I’d be happy to. So the initial consultation is the reserved time and confidential time for you to sit down with the attorney, for them to listen to. What’s going on? The specifics to your situation, cuz it is not like your neighbors or your cousins or your friends that also went through a divorce or had a custody dispute. And that’s the time for the attorney to get a snapshot of what’s going on. Answer your questions, advise you of your legal rights and options. I say this a few times a day. And help you develop that plan for moving forward? It is very educational. There is no pressure by the attorney to say, you have to do this, you must do this kind of thing. It’s to equip you with more tools in your tool bag to make the best decision for you and your family moving  forward.

Elizabeth: Yeah. I think one distinction with us, a lot of firms are going to having those sorts of first meetings with people who are not attorneys.

Jen:  Yes.

Elizabeth:  And I think it’s really, and we, Sarah and we made a conscious decision a long time ago not to do that because you’re coming to us and asking us questions that can affect your life forever. And we wanna make sure that the person you’re talking to is trained, has a law degree and a license, to answer your questions.

Jen: Yeah. It’s not as…

Elizabeth: We’re not there to sell you on anything. We’re there to give you information.

Sarah: We wanna make sure, the state bar seems to think it’s, I don’t know. I, we just aren’t gonna do it.

Elizabeth: Yeah. I…even if they say it’s okay, but we’re, But it just…

Sarah: Yeah.

Elizabeth: I just don’t think it’s good care.

Sarah: I don’t think it’s good care. And, you shouldn’t take advice from anyone that’s not an attorney about your legal matters. And I would have personal problem with someone acting as me saying something that might not be my advice to that person.

Elizabeth: Correct, too.

Sarah: There’s just that standard that we all have at our firm, at least as attorneys to making sure that you get the proper legal advice that you should.

Elizabeth: So you come to an initial consultation, you’re gonna sit down with an attorney.

Jen: And you’re gonna be listened to. You’re not gonna be talked at. Obviously you guys talk to someone, but you gotta listen first, understand what’s going on. And I think sometimes people, they see the James Scott Farrins of the world co commercials and just assume that, then attorneys don’t get paid if you don’t win. And family law is just a whole other animal. We can’t operate that way.

Sarah: No. And there’s actually a rule we can, we literally cannot, we cannot do that. Do. Yeah. And it’s not gonna be you coming to us and telling us all the facts and us being like. Not taking your case, or, Yes, we’ll take your case.There’s a lot more back and forth.

Elizabeth: Right. And I think it’s really important that you do have that time with us. So take that time to tell us all the facts of the case, because there are lots of cases where three weeks down the road I find out something that was pretty obvious that was really important, that you didn’t tell me. We can’t read your mind. And there’s no bias there. There is no prejudgment when you walk in this. We were just literally there to hear your story, and we can lead you along and tell you the areas that we want, but truly, it’s your time to say what you need to say.

Sarah: And it’s information gathering. People come to us and they aren’t sure if they’re gonna separate yet which is, it’s a smart thing to do, quite honestly, because that could be something that’s making you stay in a relationship…can I financially afford this? What do the finances look like? Is custody gonna be a problem? You know I read this on the internet…is this true? And I’m having anxiety about it. Come talk to one of us to get your questions answered about what the legal process looks like, and then you can focus on the emotional side and whether or not you wanna stay in that relationship.

Elizabeth: So that’s really what an initial consultation boils down to is information gathering. I think, I hope. That’s what we would like people to understand; when you come to us, we’re going to answer your questions. We can only answer your questions by what you provide for us.

Sarah: Yeah, and it’s like a doctor. You go to the doctor and you’re saying, I have this growth on me, and this is the symptoms I’m having. You have this growth and you have to explain what this process is, and you’re paying the doctor to be like, Okay, that looks normal. Or we’ll take a biopsy of it, or you have to, your arm chopped off. Like you’re not gonna know until you go.

Jen: And you wouldn’t want a nurse doing that. Nurses are amazing love nurses. But they didn’t go through the same training in schooling, just like paralegals, legal assistants, compared to  attorneys.

Sarah: They’re not the one chopping your arm off.

Elizabeth: So a lot of people like…so they come in, they’re just fact finding or and they may not sign, we’ll tell ’em…we’ll get into how we figure out what the initial retainer is, but a lot of times they don’t hire us that day. We may hear back from ’em three months from now.

Sarah: Or a year. I’ve had.. years ago. I’m like, Oh, I don’t remember you. I’m so sorry.

Jen: But we have notes and hopefully notes will be refreshing.

Elizabeth: But it’s always different. Some people come in and it’s an, they call on the phone, Hey, I got an emergency custody tomorrow, or dv. Sometimes they are an emergency.  A lot of times they’re not.

Jen: And l will say as part of that intake process, even though we cannot obviously as we’ve mentioned, provide legal advice or tell you what you can, or can, or should not do, or these are your options with your case. Part of our intake process is we do have those qualifying questions to ensure that this family law matter, it’s in a county that we practice in and you know that it’s not some outlier thing that maybe a different firm or something would be better suited for instance, like birth adoptions. Like we don’t really do those, but we do have… try to put people in contact with another alternative resource if we cannot assist them, if it’s not family law or what the case, whatever the case may be. So that intake process is really trying to dive a little bit deeper to make sure that it is something that we assist so that, that question mark’s kind of already gone. It’s more Okay, let’s get you in to find out what you can do and what you’re looking at, what your options are. All of that to say that’s why you’ve gotta pay for an initial consultation.

Sarah: Yes.

Elizabeth: And I think I just mentioned a lot of people, they’ll come to the initial consultation, but don’t hire us, but they still have to pay. They still get a benefit from coming to talk to us.

Sarah: Yeah. You’ve got legal advice,

Jen: I think people are, sometimes they’ll give some pushback of what if I pay for this consultation and then I walk away and I don’t feel like you’re a good fit and…you still talked to the attorney and, have their experience and their knowledge to advise you, which only an attorney can do. So it’s not a waste of money. It’s just as, as it is if you don’t go see a doctor or a dentist or a mental health provider or anything for free either, and they might not be a good fit either.

Sarah: Yeah. And fair. If you don’t like us, go find someone you like.  I always tell people that. I’m like…this is an important decision.

Elizabeth: It is.  You have to…and you’ll find a lot of attorneys…clients with the same sort of personality gravitate to the personality of an attorney that’s like theirs  a lot of the time

Sarah: But I don’t…I think everyone likes me. But I don’t know if  it’s really like that but I tell them that they have the opportunity to speak to other attorneys if they like,no pressure.

Elizabeth: Oh no. I’ll say that sometimes. Yeah. And sometimes that you can tell that it’s just not a good…we have the opportunity too, to see if it’s a good fit for us.

Sarah: And that just shows that we’re honest too you know.  You’re gonna hear that from… we’re not gonna convince you to sign on with us. That’s not the point of the consultation is… it’s really to provide you legal advice and let you know your options. And your options are always to go to different consultations and meet other attorneys…

Elizabeth: Absolutely.

Sarah: Figure out who’s gonna be best for you.

Elizabeth:  And a lot of times, just like you go back to custody, the easiest, one of the easier things. Coming in saying, I want primary custody. I only want him to have every other weekend. And sometimes that’s appropriate under a certain set of facts.But when you tell me your story and those are not the certain set of facts, I’m not gonna tell you. Yes, we will get you that. Because we won’t more than likely. And so you may not like what I have to say, but that’s the truth.

Sarah: The reality of it.

Jen: And stay away from an attorney that is gonna guarantee that they’ll get something for you.

Elizabeth: An attorney guarantees you something. I would say don’t believe that….

Sarah: Don’t believe them.

Elizabeth: There isn’t anything personal against them, but….yeah….

Sarah: Yeah. And it’s not a good sign.

Jen: Just from what I hear, and the note that, the notes that I see you guys take, these, we don’t just say it’s a comprehensive consultation just for fluff and feathers on the website. Like it is extremely comprehensive. And that’s why I always invite people when they say is there something else I need to do to prepare for the consultation? And unless there’s any preexisting like separation agreement, court documents or whatever, I always say, I invite you to write down questions you currently have because when you get into that consultation, The attorney’s gonna be asking you more questions, you’re gonna have more questions, and we wanna make sure that we get all of this. Whether they actually do or not, who knows.

Sarah: But I always feel good because it seems like at the end of the consultation, they’ll look at their questions that they prepared and they’re like, Oh, you’ve already answered all of them. And I’m like, Yeah, we’re good.

Jen: Okay, so then, so no, it’s not a waste of your money if you choose not to move forward. And we’ve also had instances where folks have come in for a consultation, they’ve chosen to work with a different firm, whatever, to teach their own. Your bad choice is fine. But then they’ll come back and they’ll say I worked with this attorney for whatever, and they were the cheapest attorney in town or…

Sarah: And then we gotta fix their mess.

Elizabeth: I can’t fix their mess sometimes. What’s up Rule? You always get what you pay for.

Sarah: Yeah. That’s always very frustrating. And it does happen more than you would think or more than you would like.

Elizabeth: What’s that?

Sarah: They did…you do a consultation with them and they hire someone and then they come and hire you later and they’re like, I actually didn’t like the person I thought I did. I should have come to you first. And maybe it was because we did quote them higher. I don’t know. But it matters to have an attorney that is well prepared like we’ve talked about. And knows their stuff. Quite honestly, cuz it’s tough to come back from things that weren’t filed correctly.

Elizabeth: It’s gonna cost you more money. Now we gotta get back up to speed and clean up, perhaps clean up somebody else’s mess. If they’ve been with them, but discovery’s been done. We have to do that. We have to go look at it all again anyway, so yeah.

Sarah: Choose wisely. Yeah. . .

Jen: Yeah, for sure. Choose wisely. I know we have this disclaimer on our initial consultation form and on the website, but if I do a consultation with you, does that mean that you’re now my attorney?

Elizabeth: No.

Jen: Why?

Sarah: Never

Elizabeth: One, they haven’t signed a fee agreement and they have not paid an initial retainer. They’re coming to us with advice. It’s privileged. Can’t tell anybody what you talked to me about, but it doesn’t mean I represent you in court or can answer questions from another party or an opposing counsel or something like that.

Sarah: You have to sign a contract for that.

Jen: Yeah. It does conflict us out from being able to do a consultation with the opposing party in a case.

Elizabeth: Correct.

Jen: But it doesn’t mean that we’re your attorney. I’m using air quotes like you guys can see me, your attorney of record.

Sarah: We’re not gonna just show up to court the next day for you when you haven’t done…

Jen: And that’s..for those listening that may be interested in scheduling a consultation or anything, at some point, if you’ve got a hearing coming up, call to schedule a consultation as soon as possible. Had a lady call today with a case out in Durham for Thursday morning for temporary custody, and this has been going on for three years and I was just like so in what world was it okay?

Sarah: No, an attorney that takes your case, that close to the hearing date isn’t gonna be prepared either.

Elizabeth: I think that’s malpractice to do something.

Sarah: You’re gonna waste your money on someone that’s not gonna know your case.

Jen: They’re either not gonna be prepared or they have no other clients, in which case that’s also a red flag.

Sarah: And in that circumstance, go ask the court for a continuance aAnd then get an attorney as soon as possible. And the court’s not gonna keep granting those continuances either.

Elizabeth: But a lot of times people go to, they’ll come see us for a temporary… No, I’ll just do it myself. And then they go to the temp hearing and it doesn’t go very well and then they come back.

Sarah:  Just kidding, I’m back.

Jen: And this particular person also said what if we can just get in for a consultation to get advice about the hearing? And I was like, one, no, we don’t have availability in the next three days, two days, whatever. And I was like, but also that’s really not gonna be beneficial for you because the attorney has a very limited scope of what’s going on in that consultation so they’re not gonna be able to advise you to the best of your ability or to the best of their ability. So the sooner the better.

Sarah: Get your life together. Like maybe you shouldn’t have custody. I dunno.

Jen: Okay, so consultation does not equal attorney. Oh, we get this one. This kind of goes back to what we were talking about a few minutes ago too. If I found an online template that is much cheaper, why should I pay an attorney to do an agreement for me instead?

Elizabeth: You see me hitting my head on the wall.

Sarah: Nightmare. Nightmare, because you, I can’t even know where to start.

Jen: Flabbergasted. So frustrated.

Elizabeth: I don’t know where to start. It’s one I want, I can’t wrap my head around why someone would pull something off the internet that deals with the most important thing in their whole lives, their children, their money, their support, and not think about it, not think that’s a good, how could they think that’s a good idea?

Sarah: It’s not a good idea. And you know it, it might not be valid and you can’t enforce it. But the worst time is when it is valid and you made a horrible decision, or it didn’t cover the scope of everything. I have cases where it didn’t cover language of getting off the mortgage. And so 10 years after you’re divorced, you’re still stuck on a mortgage that your ex is living in the house with and you have no remedy.

Elizabeth: And I think where people don’t understand, just let’s just go to court and change it. Court cannot change the terms of your contract.

Sarah:  No, they can’t. It’s awful. And you can spend a lot of money trying to fix it and still fail.

Elizabeth: And sometimes it does turn out pretty well. Like one turned out pretty well when they called something a stipend and the person who wrote it up would think, Oh, that’s like spousal support. And a judge just came down with the ruling that says, No, this isn’t spousal support. Cuz it was a prenup, so it can’t be, so you have to pay her $3,000 in perpetuity.

Sarah: Good for one person, bad for another.

Jen: Really!

Elizabeth:  So one in a million, it turned out okay, But other than that, please don’t do that folks.

Sarah: Only turned out okay for one person.

Elizabeth:  One person out of  20,000. So no, that track record is not good.

Jen: That’s what I think people need to understand too is that whenever you guys are drafting these documents, it’s not some template, you’re just plugging somebody’s name into. I mean they’re very specific to every single person’s situation, and that’s in my mind, just from a non-attorney and doing these online templates, that’s literally what you’re doing is just plugging things in. You’re not, even if they try to say it specific to North Carolina, they’re just, the most common things you guys say is, it depends, very small thing is going to make a big difference.

Sarah: I’ve seen them and they’re not specific to North Carolina. And I’m like this doesn’t even exist here.

Elizabeth: And people don’t understand like words and legal are terms of art. They mean some, they mean something different than they do in the regular real world.

Sarah:  Yeah. Just don’t do that.

Elizabeth: Yeah. Just don’t, That’s the best we can…

Sarah: Or we move on from that.  Hard, no?

Elizabeth:  Yeah. That’s all we need to say.

Jen: Okay. We are all very used to how legal fees work because that’s what we do. But maybe the general person has not worked with a retainer or an attorney before, doesn’t really understand how legal fees work, what a retainer is, how an attorney bills for their time, so to speak. So can you guys talk about that?

Elizabeth: Sure. I equate we do an initial retainer, which is you come in through the initial consultation, you tell us about our, your case, and we figure out what issues you have. So if you have all, property, custody, child support, that kind of and we hear the complexity of it. And in our, in our experience, Okay, initial retainer, $10,000 that doesn’t mean that’s what your case is gonna cost, but it gets us started. And then I explain it that it’s goes into a separate bank account into our trust account and that’s your own bank account. And so every [00:16:00] month we bill, so I, we bill on an hourly rate. So if we bill 10 hours and that’s $4,000, let’s say, then that’s $4,000 we take out of your 10. So you have $6,000 left of that. And as that gets down closer and closer, we ask you to replenish that to get it back up to the 10.

Sarah: Yeah. And not everyone’s case is gonna have the same retainer. It’s gonna, we take the opportunity to learn more about you, about your spouse. And really gauge, is this a case where we can settle in our minds with our experience? Settle quickly. And it seems like you’re relatively amicable, or do you hate each other? And I can tell so quickly that you hate each other and this is gonna be a disaster.

Elizabeth: It’s so and so is on the other side as the opposing counsel.

Sarah: Yeah. We take all these things into consideration. You don’t wanna set you up for failure and say that, Oh yeah. It’s only gonna be $3,000 to get started. And then halfway through the month that’s gone. And you need to have a realistic picture of what it might cost. Doesn’t mean that it’s going to cost that much. And if it doesn’t, if you’re able to settle and you still have funds in the retainer, it goes back to you. And if it blows up and things get crazier, then we anticipated and it goes over, then you have to replenish it. And that’s just, it’s, we can’t predict it. We can’t predict what the other side will do. And a lot of times you can’t even, cause I tell them, I was like, yeah you’re divorcing for a reason. You’re fighting it. You can’t communicate like nothing’s gonna get better. From this point. Like it might get worse and people also will tell me, Wow, I never thought he or she had it in them to behave like this. This is some little advice I read recently In Dating and Marriage and they said, before you get married to someone, think about if this is a person you would want to divorce. Not like you would be sad, but like how would that look? Would they be a total dick in the divorce process? Maybe don’t marry them.

Elizabeth: Yeah. Good advice.

Sarah: I thought it was great advice.

Elizabeth: Great advice.

Sarah: Yeah. That’s it. That’s all I got for that. I don’t even remember what we’re talking about. That’s good advice.

Elizabeth: But then, and we’re also bound by, every county has local rules about what [00:18:00] people are supposed to disclose. So even if it’s an one hour child support hearing, let’s say somebody’s self-employed, then there’s a lot of documents to gather and a lot of documents to look at. So you may say it’s only an hour hearing why is it, I don’t know, I’m picking a number. Why is it $5,000? Here’s why. Cause one, you want us to be prepared. You could find somebody that can walk into court, never looking at ’em and charge you a thousand dollars, but you’re not gonna get the results that you want.

Sarah: Oh yeah, I’ve seen that. I’ve seen the other side.I’m like this is a great day for me.

Elizabeth: Yeah, that’s the other thing about considering whether you wanna go to court or not, cuz it gets exponentially more expensive to do that.

Jen: Yeah. And then you guys bill the legal team’s bill off of an hourly rate, which I think sometimes is hard for people to grasp like the measurement of that. So can you discuss those increments?

Elizabeth: Oh, you’re talking about math now!

Sarah: No it’s just like it’s a 10th of an hour based on the hourly rate. An attorney with more experience will have a higher hourly rate than attorneys that have less experience. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re gonna have a different outcome in your case. If you choose someone with more experience, it depends on the complexity of your case. And then paralegals will bill less than the attorney and so on.

Elizabeth: And we do, we, you do have your own team. I know people get sick of me in the Slack channel and walking down the hall,hey, I got a question will y’all help? What would you do? So it’s not just us that’s doing your case, really. We have seven attorneys in there that got big brain,

Sarah: Which is super beneficial to you. I tell my clients that all the time because I think any attorney, we’re not gonna know everything or we’re not gonna think we know everything, so we might even be right in what we’re thinking. But you still wanna bounce it off another attorney and be like, I’m not crazy for thinking this.

Elizabeth: Okay. Yeah. Or yeah, you are.

Jen: Which just speaks to the fact that, I think it’s now, it’s like over 50 years of combined experience that we have in the firm with the family law attorneys and so going back to when you think, Oh, this is gonna be amicable, it’s fine. And so many times, and in all of that experience you guys have together, that ends up not being the case, even if it starts out that way, or whatnot. So listen to the attorneys people and then in addition to that, just like nuances, you do receive invoices every month to see what works been done by who for how long, which you have left in your retainer. And then the benefit, cuz I, I don’t see all too often in family law, and you guys, please correct me if I’m wrong, that flat fees are really existing.

Elizabeth: People do ’em, but things blow up in family law too quickly, easily.

Sarah: And a lot of, sometimes those flat fees are a lot higher than the work that would be required and you don’t get that money back.

Elizabeth: Right.

Jen: Yeah. That’s a big difference between, for those listening, between a flat fee and a retainer is that the retainer is like your bank account. And as it’s depleted then you get, you replenish. Or if everything wraps up with your case and you got a nice little bow tied on it, then if there’s funds remaining in that retainer, then that’s returned to you. In a flat fee you pay that money, it’s gone .

Elizabeth: Just settle tomorrow and you’re still not gonna get your… 

Sarah: And you gotta be careful because you’re, that attorney might not put a lot of work into your case. And you won’t know cuz you were not gonna receive…

Elizabeth: Gotta get a bill to see what they did.

Sarah: Yeah. You just know that you paid $5,000 for a temporary hearing and yeah, they showed up, but were they prepared.

Jen:  Yeah, I actually had a potential client reach out and it was an emergency situation. I was trying to work with him and get him squared away, but he had actually had a consultation to retain somebody like right before he called us. And so then he was like can I get out of that? And I was like, I don’t know dude, You gotta look at the fee agreement that you signed. And I was like, because if it’s a flat fee, I was like, as much as I would love for us to be able to help you, you also might wanna use the funds that you’re not gonna get back.

Sarah: They can still get them back. They, if they, you have to go talk to the bar of, state bar and do legal fee, whatever it’s called. I can’t remember. Legal fee Dispute. Dispute. Yeah. So there’s avenues for people out there if they don’t think that the flat fee they paid was earned. I don’t know.

Elizabeth: Yeah. That’s a personal choice. We just don’t do it. Yeah.

Jen: Okay, so why can’t someone be quoted a retainer before their consultation?

Sarah: An attorney needs to  do that, first of all.

Jen: Yeah. So why can’t Kellen, who’s our client relationship specialist, why can’t she, I quote retainers?

Sarah: You’re  not attorneys.

Elizabeth:  You’re not attorneys, basically.  Yeah. And you don’t, they could tell you every fact of the case, but you wouldn’t, y’all don’t know what legal theory to attach to it. or what cases have come down, or the statutes or anything, or how complicated it might be..

Sarah: Yeah. And even like on a five minute phone call, you might not get all the details.

Elizabeth: I wouldn’t be  able to put one on a five minute phone call.

Jen: No. There’s so many times that people, they tell us stuff and we put our little notes in there for the event, and then you  guys get into the consultation and there’s all these other things that pop up and we’re not equipped or trained or licensed to be able to address that point. You don’t want us doing that. Also, you’re gonna be a whole lot more pissed if we were like, Oh, it’d probably be like 2,500 and you come in it’s Oh, there’s $15,000 retainer.

Elizabeth: Yeah. It’s like calling your doctor’s office and the receptionist answers how much I think is this procedure gonna be, they can’t quote you.

Sarah: No. They’ll be like, Yeah. Might be cancer.

Elizabeth: Oh no! I dunno.

Sarah: $50,000. Get rid of your cancer.

Jen: Alright. And again, some of these really play off of each other, but so many times, people comment, call in and say, Yeah my sister went through a divorce a couple years ago and her retainer wasn’t that. Why is mine that much or why is my retainer so different? And again, just the same things that we’ve said, your situation, first of all, is not the same as that person. A lot of different things can, a lot of different variables can affect that initial retainer. So that one probably already has been covered there, but. Oh, Google, jd. Those are fun calls too. Google said this, so my case should be straightforward, right?

Sarah: Cuz you guys…

Elizabeth: You printed that after you printed that form off and signed it. Yes. No, don’t do that. Yeah. Wrong.

Jen: I had  a guy that got very irate with me on the phone because he was like I Googled it and for my this custody case. It should be straightforward to do x, y, and Z. So I don’t understand why I have to pay $300 just to come talk to an attorney. It should be so simple, and I’m just like, Fine. Is Google gonna show up to court with you?

Sarah: Yeah.

Elizabeth: You need…everybody is always welcome to go pro se and represent themselves.

Sarah: Yep. I know people come in, they look up the most random stuff, and then the first second they’ll, I’ll be like, really? Is this, does that change? Did I miss this update? What’s going on? I’m like, Wait no you’re completely lost on the internet. Get out of there. Don’t be on like Reddit or something.

Elizabeth: Yeah some people. One day I was in court and some guy followed me out and said he didn’t want me to represent him in trial. He just wanted me, I don’t know what he wanted, but he wanted to do his own trial cuz he knew it all and knew what to do. I guess he just wanted me as a sounding board.

Jen: Yeah. He wanted you to help prepare him for the trial and all that kind stuff. Nightmare.

Elizabeth: Yeah, no we will not be doing that, sir.

Sarah: Yeah.

Jen: I mean you guys have a bar license that you protect. You worked very hard for.

Sarah: Go to law school and do all that work,

Jen: Yeah, exactly. Which brings up another point of someone calling in and not wanting to pay for a consultation and obviously there’s a service that you need and attorneys go to law school and pay all this money to go to law school and pass the bar and get their license and everything. You, you didn’t do all that. So you need this professional that is going to be able to advise you and there is a charge for that. It boggles my mind. Do you work for free? Does anybody wanna go to work for free? No, I didn’t think so. Again, we covered this. I was just going off of frequent asked questions we get, but does the initial retainer cover the cost of my whole case?

Sarah: It depends. . .

Elizabeth: That would just be a flat no. That wouldn’t even cover just your straight divorce. Oh, no. And they’re all kinds of  hidden fees. There cost involved too. Not just our time, but it costs what, $150 to file a complaint?

Sarah: Maybe. Maybe more costs for divorce.

Elizabeth: Every time we file a motion, take a deposition, subpoena service

Jen: Hearings.

Elizabeth: Yeah. So it’s  not just our time, but it’s the fees. It’s court cost associated with it too.

Jen: There are fees just to subpoena records, right? Don’t the companies usually…

Sarah: Yeah…

Jen: Yeah like per pay, it’s crazy. So no, I guess if you get a refund back, technically if things wrap up nicely, then you get a refund back then, yes, your initial retainer would’ve covered the cost of your case.

Sarah: But yeah I always feel real good when cases end and there’s like just a marginal dollars all from when I initial quoted, I’m like, Yes, I got, yes, I got that nailed.

Elizabeth: And we don’t over, and we don’t pad stuff. I will tell you that. No, we don’t, we go, Oh, there’s a thousand dollars we’ll have to do.

Sarah: We don’t do that.  No.

Jen: We wanna be transparent. We don’t want people to have surprises about how legal fees work or what the initial retainer is or anything like that, we want you to know and be straightforward with it. We’re not trying to pull the wool over your eyes.

Sarah: There’s no offense. I want your case to be over just as much as you do. By the time…

Elizabeth: Three years down the road; I’m…really, we need to get this done.

Sarah: Yeah. It just; I’m just trying to move on. Just more shit. Different shit…

Jen: Alright. Last one, this actually came up today was can my ex pay my initial retainer? And I know that you might be super pissed and maybe that your ex is the one who wants the separation, so you feel like they should be the one to have, or they’re the one that’s initiated something in court, so they should have to be the one to pay for your fees. But can the opposing party in a case pay for an initial retain?

Sarah: If you’re still married, it’s still marital, so it’s coming out of your joint checking. Yeah, but I can’t make them pay for it. I can send them a bill and be like, you need to pay this.

Elizabeth: Correct; if they wanna write them a check or transfer money to them, I don’t have a problem with that.

Jen: Yeah. And that’s what we told the person today. Listen, if you guys are agreeing to, to split it, but we can’t have the opposing party call up here and have their name on for you. It’s gonna be a conflict there.

Sarah: They can mail you some money. I don’t care if that happens.

Jen: Yeah. But what about, can you get attorney’s fees?

Sarah: On the back? Maybe.

Elizabeth:  It’s not a given. It’s not a whole lot anymore really.

Sarah: Oh I’ve seen some huge awards

Elizabeth: No…

Sarah: I know, but I’ve seen some no awards. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, which I think is the point

Elizabeth: No there isn’t. And a lot of times it’s, Oh yeah, it’s $5,000 and pay that at a hundred dollars a month. So you just be ready to pay your own attorney’s fees, is what I would. ..

Sarah: Yeah. Don’t bank on that.

Elizabeth: And if you have to, if somebody’s loan you money like a parent or something, get a note signed. It doesn’t have to be anything fan or formal, but , if they want you to pay it back, then put it in writing that you have to pay it back. What you have to show with attorney’s fees is that you do not have the ability to stand toe to toe with the other person. And so even if you started reading about contempt the other day, for my case, even if you lose a contempt, let’s say you’re in a court for contempt and you lose, or you lose any case, you can still be awarded attorney’s fees if the court finds you did not have the ability to stand toe to toe with that person cause you didn’t have the money. So you don’t necessarily have to win every time either to do that. Yeah that’s the point of the attorney’s fees.

Sarah: Don’t piss off the judge. They’re not gonna give you anything.

Elizabeth: Yeah. I try my best no to piss judges off for sure.

Jen: No, that doesn’t mean another, a family member or a friend can’t pay your,

Elizabeth: If you’re, if your ex wants to pay, hell yeah take that money.

Sarah: Yeah. Another thing is we don’t want it to look like income if a friend is gifting you a couple thousand dollars every few months to keep your attorney’s fees afloat, we just wanna make sure that people who know that look at the bank statements, so that’s not a gift. The gift’s reoccurring money that’s not, should not be counted as income or something. Just, make sure you ask those questions to your attorney.

Jen: That’s all the questions I have for you today, ladies. Do you have anything else you wanna add about legal fees and I don’t know why attorneys should get paid

Elizabeth: I don’t know why we sometimes, I don’t know, some days I don’t know. But we do, we work really hard. We do work hard, it is really important, I think. And emotionally draining.

Sarah: It  is. And since we all care about the outcome of your case, it stresses us out. We’re behind the scenes working hard, preparing for your case, losing sleep, thinking about it. And something that frustrates me a lot is when I have clients that don’t seem to care as much as I do about their case. So that’s always frustrating.

Elizabeth: Yeah. And I don’t charge ’em for my time I think about their case in the shower, driving to work  or whatever.

Sarah: No, no.

Elizabeth: No. So you are getting a discount in some way.

Sarah: You are.

Elizabeth:  Yeah. Fair.

Sarah: I’m up at night sending myself emails about case strategy for your case…

Elizabeth: I don’t do that with Slack. 3 o’clock…

Sarah: Yeah, that’s why…

Jen: I love you. But that’s why I started putting my phone on dnd whenever I could.

Elizabeth: That’s what I think about stuff. It’s three o’clock in the morning

Sarah: We need to start our own like extra legal fees for our therapy fund or something like that.

Jen: Yeah. People don’t understand. Have an in-house therapist.

Sarah: Yeah.

Elizabeth: My trial  professor, he said  you know you’re doing a good job on your case when you start dreaming about it. That’s true.

Sarah: Yay. I know…

Jen: I think sometimes folks have the misconception that attorneys are leaving or they’re always off on Fridays or leaving at noon and hell no. But you guys are in there busting your ass and the entire legal team, yeah.

Sarah: And our brains never stop thinking about it. If your attorney’s doing a good job for you, it’s because they care and they’re working hard. Because you can’t do a good job for someone if you leave it all at the door and don’t prepare or don’t think about them.

Elizabeth: And  it’s not just us, it’s Jen,  it’s everybody. It’s your paralegals, it’s legal assistance, the interns down to Kellen, intake specialist. Everybody has a part in all that.

Jen: Yeah, we wanna make sure, you  know, we always talk about micromanaging that client experience and we wanna make sure, cuz when everyone complains to the bar it’s that people can never reach their attorneys. And so we have made sure as a team that you know who your point of contact is. And that we set an expectation of hey Sarah’s in court the next two days or whatnot, preparing or in trial. And so I’ll talk with her as soon as she’s available or whatnot. But at least you have your designated paralegal.

Sarah: And learn how to write emails, like it’s a lot easier to get a response to a question, a specific question or two on email, than trying to find me between trials and whatever. Because we had to triage, our situations, and if I have a bunch of clients going to trial, like I have to put them first right at the moment. Which means I, I’m not gonna be reachable at 3: 23 on a, on a Tuesday or something. I might be in trial, but send an email. Be okay talking to your paralegal, they’re there for you. I have people who refuse to talk to the paralegal. I’m like, Please talk to them.They  can help you. Hey, they can help you and they can help narrow down what you need to specifically ask me. And then when I’m done with my trial and out that day I can respond via email.

Jen: And well it’s, the emails are, isn’t it good for you guys to have written record sometimes that you need for…

Elizabeth: This is helping make a connection to the file instead of just a phone call that you forget to write something down. So yeah, I always appreciate an email, if it was there.

Sarah: Absolutely. Some people still love to talk on the phone, let me tell you. And I will spend an hour talking to ’em on the phone and not one legal question was asked. All right. Like my therapy might be cheaper for you. I dunno.

Jen: Compare hourly rates.

Sarah: But if you wanna talk to me for an hour, I’ll schedule up time.

Elizabeth: I’m happy to do it.

Sarah: Happy to do it.

Elizabeth: It’s out of people. Call us to get an intake .

Jen:  For those that wanna talk on the phone they can give us the call at (919) 719-3470. We do have someone to answer the phone during normal business hours, 8:30 to 5. You can fill out our contact us form on our website. You can DM us on Facebook and Instagram. We’re very responsive there. Reach out to us. We’re gonna do our best to answer the phone or get back to you quickly as possible as we can.

Sarah: Yeah.

Elizabeth: Ain’t that some bullsh$t.

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