I was complaining to a friend that my divorce legal fees are getting out of hand and she immediately sent me to your blog.
My wife and I agreed early in the process to make this divorce as pain-free as possible but we are eight months in and it hasn’t been easy at all. I try to keep on top of the case but honestly I’m so busy at work and with our kids (we share them 50/50) that I think I’ve missed some details.
When I went to review my legal bills over winter break I was shocked. There seems to be a lot of activity on issues I don’t recall discussing with my lawyer. I have blindly been paying the bills each month without looking at them and now I suspect I may be taken advantage of.
I’m considering having another attorney take a look at my file to determine whether all this is normal or whether my attorney is screwing me, and not in a fun way. Ha ha. What are your thoughts?
Please be advised that letter-writers are not allowed to attempt jokes in my blog.
Making lame attempts at humor is my job, not yours. No wonder you are getting a divorce – did you try to breastfeed your children as well?
Back to your problem:
You sent me a copy of your fee agreement and several of your bills last week.
Reach for the lube, because your divorce attorney (let’s call him “Brad”) appears to be making sweet love to your anus on a regular basis with your implicit consent.
You are being date-raped by your attorney and I hate to blame the victim in matters of legal sexual assault but you do share a significant amount of the blame for the repeated violations by your attorney against your tight little bank account.
Why am I being so mean?
Because you, a very successful businessman, forgot the number one rule when you hired your rapist:
You didn’t read and negotiate the contract.
Let’s Talk About Your Fee Agreement
Spencer, your fee agreement is a written license to fuck you over. Here are some of the highlights:
- Invoices unpaid after 5 days of mailing (!) incur a late payment charge of 19.56%.
- If you pay your bill you are “deemed to have waived objection to it.”
- Five days after “issuance” (I guess that means “mailing” too) of your bill you are “deemed to have waived objection to it.” This conflicts with their 30-day bill dispute language in the credit card section of the agreement and I assume that is because of credit card regulations I’m too sleepy to research.
- You agreed to a minimum .3 billing increment: 18 minutes. Brad charges $350 per hour, so you are automatically billed $105 for any action on your file.
- You agreed Brad can charge you more time than he actually spent on any given matter. As if the .3 minimum weren’t bad enough, you literally signed on the dotted line and said it’s OK for Brad to cheat you.
- Similarly, you agreed to a one-hour minimum charge for visits to the courthouse.
- You agreed that if you fire Brad, perhaps because he decided to play golf instead of showing up at your latest hearing, you have to pay his bill in full (whether or not you think it’s accurate) before he will give you a copy of your file. That includes your own original documents.
Were you drunk or high when you signed this agreement?
Jesus H. Christ on a hover board.
I Get It.
I’m not trying to be unkind, Spencer.
The average person looking over a divorce attorney’s fee agreement is in a great deal of pain.
They often are apprehensive, devastated, broken-hearted, and prone to crying jags brought on by the most base of human fears:
The breakdown of the family and the possibility of dying alone.
Because of their highly emotional state, too many people fall into the trap of hiring a lawyer and believing their responsibilities end at providing information and money to that lawyer.
That approach is foolhardy and dangerous.
Your attorney is there to help you (we hope) but unless you master the art of self-help you may find your finances overwhelmed by excessive and unnecessary fees that you cannot pay.
Let’s take those minimum billing units as an example of excessive fee generation by Brad “Bend Over and Take It” Lawyer Dude.
I really don’t like this guy.
- If Brad calls you to schedule a meeting and that call takes 30 seconds, you get billed for 18 minutes ($105).
- If he decides he needs some fresh air and walks across the street to the courthouse to file a motion on your behalf and takes 15 minutes to do so, you get billed for a full hour, or $350. Did I mention this filing can be done by a legal assistant, file guy, or cognitively-challenged Labradoodle?
- If Brad touches himself where his bathing suit covers for five minutes while simultaneously watching lactation porn and thinking about your case (also known in legal billing lingo as “review case status”) you get billed for 18 minutes and another $105.
And so on, and so on, and so on.
Imagine how much those minimum billing requirements are going to add up over the life of your case.
Minimum charges are the legal version of Chinese water torture (no disrespect to the Chinese, I assure you).
Excessive and unearned legal fees will erode more and more of your assets until there are none left, at which point Brad of course fires you and sues you for his unpaid bill while holding your file hostage until you pay the ransom.
Listen Up, Spencer! You are responsible for your case and for being a smart consumer!
A divorce is far too important a life event to simply abdicate your duties as an active participant in your existence and to passively hand off these major decisions to someone else, especially when they have a vested financial motivation to act against your best interests.
Robin! What About My Advice?
As my dear sister Melinda would say, “Simmer down, pot roast.”
She says other stuff to me as well. Mostly not nice things.
A goal without a plan is a wish, and because I want to give you a plan that is detailed and measured, your advice will have to wait until tomorrow. I’m over my word limit, too close to my filing deadline, and cabin fever wrought by our Portland Ice Storm 2016 has me concerned about dispensing advice when I may be in the midst of a nervous breakdown.
Come back tomorrow for some very specific advice on how to take control of your divorce.
Happy New Year to all my Readers, near and far!