In 1991, Toyota added to its new luxury Lexus line the relatively inexpensive ES300 model. Critics wondered what moron would spend an extra $5,000 for what appeared to be nothing more than a loaded Toyota Camry with a fancy “L” slapped on the hood.
Okay, so maybe it wasn’t one of my best decisions. But it wasn’t one of those mistakes that takes years to recover from. Like hiring a high-priced divorce lawyer you don’t need.
If your divorce case is not overly complicated, and your budget (or gag-reflex) rules out giant legal bills, don’t pay extra for hood ornaments. There are lawyers out there who can do just as good a job as the top names in your area, without charging top dollar.
The trick is to find them.
Who’s in the Basement?
You might have difficulty thinking of any lawyer as a “bargain.” Putting aside that debate, lawyers who charge less than they could, can be found in what I call the “Quality Divorce Lawyer Bargain Basement.” These lawyers:
- Have practiced exclusively in the family law field for at least the past 5 years
- Have been trained during that time either at a top “boutique” firm that handles only matrimonial cases, or in the matrimonial department of a larger respected law firm
- Are still associates in their firms (have not yet made partner or “principal”) and thus charge less than the firm’s top lawyers.
Besides being less expensive, Bargain Basement lawyers are particularly desirable because they:
- Bring high energy to your case, due to youthful exuberance and the desire to build their own client base
- Are typically more empathetic than many of their older, battle-weary colleagues
- Continue to be mentored by firm partners who rank among the best family lawyers in the area, and are eager to use what they’ve learned in your case
- Have more family law experience than many general practitioners who have been lawyering for far longer
Working alongside accomplished matrimonial lawyers on a wide variety and heavy volume of family law cases, Bargain Basement lawyers pick up strategies and tactics that can take other family lawyers much longer to learn, if they ever do. And should something come up for which the youngsters are not prepared, top-notch advice is just down the hall.
Of course, not every junior lawyer in a matrimonial law firm is a “bargain.” Some firms bill for their associates’ time at hourly rates that exceed those of more experienced lawyers in the area. To measure how aggressively a particular firm charges for its associates, get a feel for local lawyers’ hourly rates. Call a few law offices and ask what their lawyers charge in divorce cases. And ask folks you know who are divorcing or have recently divorced, how much they paid.
One note of caution regarding fees: Find out not only the lawyers’ hourly rates but also if they charge in minimum “increments” (portions of an hour) rather than for actual minutes; and if so, what those increments are. Minimum billing increments of 1/10 of an hour (6 minutes) are common. But try to avoid lawyers who charge a minimum of 2/10 of an hour (12 minutes), even for a three-minute phone call.
Finally, once you think you may have found your Bargain Baby, test your preference by gathering opinions about the lawyer from local professionals such as other lawyers, divorce coaches, divorce financial analysts or therapists who are frequently involved with divorcing families.
How Do I Get Down to the Basement?
There are a number of routes to the Quality Divorce Lawyer Bargain Basement. One of the best begins at the website of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), a national organization of highly skilled and respected divorce lawyers. Visit www.aaml.org/find-a-lawyer to get the names and websites of local AAML members. Then go to their law firm websites and select the lawyer bio section. Skip the higher-priced AAML partners and focus on the associates. When you find some with the qualifications mentioned above, congratulations! You’ve found the Bargain Basement!
Another excellent route to the Bargain Basement is available in states that certify family law specialists. To find out if your state has such a process—and which lawyers meet its qualifications—search on-line for “certified specialist [your state] Bar Association.” Then follow the steps above.
A third option is to begin your search with recommendations from the professionals mentioned above. Endorsements by trusted professionals are always valuable, whether to begin your search or later, to test your tentative choices.
Legal fees pile up quickly during divorce. You probably don’t need to land the biggest, most expensive fish in the pond. Instead, reel in a quality lawyer at a discount.
Learn much more about saving money in divorce
in Larry Sarezky’s new book
DIVORCE, SIMPLY STATED, available at amazon.com