If you are hiring an attorney for the first time you will want to be well-educated about how your money is going to be spent and how long you should expect it to last. Everyone is on a budget after all! Even at the worst of times.
How you are billed will vary greatly based upon the kind of attorney you require.
Many criminal defense attorneys ask for what is called a “flat fee”. You pay them a whole bunch of money up front and then never have to bother with legal fees again. (Some criminal defense attorneys can be hired for a flat fee of, let’s say $5000.00, but then if the matter goes to trial another fee may be triggered). One quick kick in the shin and the money pain is over. Tidy.
When hiring a personal injury attorney, on the other hand, you may not have to pay anything upfront at all. If you can convince your attorney that your case has merit (and is potentially worth a lot of money) then he or she may be willing to take your case “on contingency”. Meaning you pay $0 to hire them, but if you receive money at the end of the case by either settlement or verdict, your attorney’s office would be paid a percentage of that award. Thus the happy client received quality representation and the client never had to pay out-of-pocket (in a sense).
Retaining a Family Court attorney is nothing at all like these two previous examples, however. It is, like all things in the Family Court, messier.
To retain a Family Court attorney you will likely have to pay something called a retainer. A retainer is money the client pays to the attorney to formally hire the attorney and it is kept in a special weird bank account called an IOLTA account (Interest on Lawyer Trust Account). Though you paid that money to your attorney of choice, those funds actually remain yours until your attorney earns it. Even the interest that accrues on your money gets paid to the Bar Association or some other civic organization instead of going to the bank that holds the money!
Let’s use an example for illustration purposes only.
If you pay your Family Court attorney a retainer of $2,500 the day before court, and the attorney bills at $250 per hour that she works on your case, then the following day she goes to court on your case and that hearing takes 1.0 hour, then $250.00 has magically travelled from the IOLTA account (your money) to the lawyer’s business account (now her money).
At that point you have $2,250.00 left in your retainer.
When your Family Court case ends, if there are funds left in your retainer account, those funds are returned to you. On the other hand, if the retainer account runs out of funds, then your attorney will send you an invoice for the work done after the funds extinguished.
Many software systems such as MyCase or Clio allow clients to receive instantaneous updates on how attorney is spending client’s money by working on the case. There should be few surprises.
The money should be set forth in a Fee Agreement in easy-to-explain language.
If you have any questions about how your legal fees will be utilized, or what your Fee Agreement means as written, take your time and ask your chosen attorney as many questions as you can think of before paying them!
And if you are not comfortable asking those questions then you are not sitting with the right attorney!