In considering whether to hire an attorney in a divorce case, it is appropriate and necessary to consider legal fees. For most divorce cases in Colorado, attorneys will charge for their time on an hourly basis. Those hourly fees will vary but, after preliminary research, one should be able to develop a fairly good sense of what is a reasonable range of hourly fees for a particular geographic area. Most divorce lawyers will ask for a retainer, which is essentially a down payment or deposit held in the attorney’s trust account. On a periodic basis, the retainer is debited to pay for attorney’s fees as well as certain costs (such as court filing fees). Some attorneys will ask that a retainer be replenished after it is depleted, while other attorneys may switch to a “pay as you go” billing arrangement after the retainer is depleted. If the legal work in a divorce case is completed and there is still money remaining from the original retainer, that money should be promptly refunded to the client.
It is important for the client to have a clear understanding of how his or her attorney bills for services and costs. The best way to achieve that understanding is for the attorney to provide the client with an Attorney’s Fee Agreement or a similar document which specifies what the attorney’s hourly fee is and whether fees will be charged for work done by paralegals, legal assistants, or secretaries. The Attorney’s Fee Agreement should also offer details as to how legal fees will be determined. For example, some attorneys bill for every 1/10 of an hour that they spend on a case, while other lawyers may bill for their time in different minimum increments (for example, a quarter of an hour). In any event, the client should understand and agree upon when and how the attorney’s office will charge for all legal services and costs.
It is also important to consider the value received for the legal work performed. Accurately and fairly recording time spent to provide legal services is certainly an integral part of the billing process but a client should also receive real value for the work that is done. That value may not be quantifiable using a “dollar for dollar” analysis but the client should still truly benefit from the legal services that are provided. To varying degrees, divorce lawyers spend time meeting clients, reviewing documents, writing letters, sending emails, conducting legal research, drafting pleadings, engaging in negotiations, and going to court. Those activities can certainly be very important. However, for most clients, the real essence of valuable legal representation is to have a lawyer who can exercise sound judgment in order to provide practical and worthwhile advice to either avoid or deal with a problem — and who also has the ability to implement that advice in a cost-effective, efficient and successful manner. All of the factors above should be taken into account when one is considering whether to hire a divorce lawyer in Colorado and who that attorney should be.