Los Angeles Divorce Attorneys: Questions and Answers about Costs

January 26 Dan's Blog, Divorce in Los Angeles, Family Mediation, Featured

Question: How much do Los Angeles divorce attorneys charge for a divorce?

Answer: I know of couples who have paid their lawyers over $4 million for a divorce in Los Angeles. I know of other couples who have spent only around $15,000 each. And I know of many couples who have avoided lawyers entirely and completed the necessary paperwork on their own.

Question: Why does a divorce in Los Angeles always end up costing so much more than the attorney says it will?

Answer: Your lawyer probably wasn’t intentionally lying when he or she said it would only cost a around five thousand dollars. It’s just that there are many parts of the process that are out of your lawyer’s control, including your own needs, your spouse’s reaction to your lawyer’s work, and your spouse’s lawyer’s tactics. Lawyers often explain to me that the reason divorces so often cost in the tens of thousands of dollars is that the lawyer on the other side is being difficult.

Question: What’s an appropriate hourly rate for a Los Angeles divorce attorney to charge?

Answer: While it’s hard to understand how anyone can be worth $600 an hour, there are Los Angeles divorce lawyers who charge that much. There are other Los Angeles divorce attorneys who charge as little as $150 per hour. The hourly fee actually isn’t the most important factor in the total cost. The bigger variable is the number of hours the lawyer bills you for. Some lawyers spend hundreds of hours on one case. Often my clients, after they’ve come efficiently to an agreement with my help, hire a lawyer for one or two hours, just to confirm that they are comfortable with the legalities of their agreement. It is possible to get divorced with no lawyer involvement at all, or if you’d like some, you can keep it under control by reaching an agreement first with my help.

Question: Is there any way I can keep the costs of my Los Angeles divorce attorney under control?

Answer: If you turn your case over to your lawyer to handle, they will spend a lot of time doing things to protect themselves (cover their asses, as they like to say), and they will charge you for that time. For example they may spend a lot of time officially gathering financial information from your ex – you might be able to get that same information absolutely free on your own. Also, they’re likely to send you what they call a “cya” letter toward the end of your case. (Cya stands for “cover your ass” and it’s referring to the attorney covering his own ass). That letter is designed to prove that they advised you that you were giving up rights by making whatever agreement you make with your ex. They write it because after a divorce involving lawyers, clients are very often unhappy and sometimes they sue their lawyers for malpractice. By writing that letter, your lawyer is preparing his case for when you sue him later. And he charges you for his writing that letter. The other big factor that’s out of your control is that your lawyer can always tell you that he needs to respond to your ex or your ex’s lawyer and that’s why the costs are increasing. The best way to keep lawyer costs under control is not to hire one; the second best way is to use one only for very limited purposes, such as completing final paperwork; the third best way is to pay very close attention to everything your lawyer does and make sure that you understand what they’re doing and why it’s necessary. If your lawyer is not easy to communicate with about these things, get a different lawyer, or switch back to no lawyer at all.

Question: How can these lawyers live with themselves, charging so much, and delivering such bad results?

Answer: Lawyers handling divorces is a tradition that dates back to when you had to prove to a judge that your spouse had committed adultery, been cruel to you, or committed another act that justified the divorce. Back then, one spouse would be able to fight to stay married. So a trial in those cases sort of made sense. Nowadays, lawyers are rarely necessary, but people still believe they are. The lawyers who practice divorce or family law in Los Angeles learned how to do it from older lawyers. Being a lawyer used to be seen as a noble profession, and many lawyers still feel that it is. So for them, the fact that other lawyers do it makes it seem ok for them to do it. Also, divorce lawyers often get very little satisfaction from their work because their clients are often so unhappy and so angry at them. The one remaining perk of their job is that they can charge a lot for it, and it’s hard for their clients to know how unnecessary it all is.

Question: Considering the high costs, why does anyone still use a divorce attorney in Los Angeles?

Answer: Many people mistakenly believe that a lawyer is still necessary for a divorce in Los Angeles. And lawyers often persuade people that that’s true (btw, my friends who are divorce lawyers will be very angry at me when they read this post – they’d like people to believe that divorce lawyers are necessary). Also, when you’re getting divorced you’re under a lot of stress – it’s nice to imagine that a lawyer can just handle it for you – often it’s only after a couple years into a divorce process when people realize the lawyer did more harm than good.

Question: Should I take advantage of the free consultation that many divorce lawyers offer?

Answer: Often a free consultation is designed to make your divorce seem more overwhelming and complicated than it really is. The consultation makes you feel like you need a lawyer. Many lawyers are crafty at this. They’ll say “Listen, it doesn’t matter whether you hire me, but promise you’ll hire some lawyer. . .don’t be like those people I have to deal with, who didn’t have a lawyer and now have big problems.” These statements make it seem like it’s just good solid advice they’re giving you. They know that if they can scare you into hiring a lawyer in general, there’s a good chance you’ll choose them. But they say it doesn’t matter whether you hire them, to make it sound as if they’re not being self-serving with that advice. As for those problems they mention that people without lawyers have? Wait till you hear my stories of people who DID have lawyers (or just ask your divorced friends how their lawyered-up divorce went).


What do you think?