My law office gets several calls each week from people who need legal help who make sure to ask what it will cost to handle their family law matter. My firm does not quote prices over the phone for family law matters, and we do not recommend hiring a firm that does offer quotes for legal services over the phone during an initial call. This essay is the first in a series of blog posts that address some reasons why.

The first reason is the impossibility of accurate pricing on a family law matter before the facts are known. There are simply too many variables to consider when determining the price of legal representation to quote a price over the phone. When you go to a store to buy a given product you can see the product and the price tag. With that information you can decide if you want to buy the product because you can see, touch, feel and read the literature on each item.

The same decision making process used for buying a new baseball glove, for example, is completely useless when deciding on a lawyer to help you with your legal problem. In fact the process is fatally flawed when applied to legal services. First, unlike a glove at a store, you cannot compare the quality of services provided by a lawyer to services offered by other lawyers the way you can compare different gloves on the shelf at the store. If one lawyer costs $X and the next costs $2X, how can you know what price means? Second, unlike a glove designed to fit anyone and serve a single purpose, your legal representation needs to tailored to you and your matter.

Hiring legal representation is fundamentally different from buying a product at a store. There are simply too many variables in a given legal matter to accurately quote a price. Your store knows what the baseball glove cost when it purchased it from the maker, and the store knows what it will cost to buy a new glove to replace its inventory when you purchase this glove. That’s how the store sets a price on the glove to start with. But in a divorce there could be numerous hearings, depositions, interrogatories, meetings, and other associated costs, or there could be only one final trial such as in an agreed uncontested divorce. Other factors that affect cost include the other party’s level of rationality, the opposing counsel’s propensity to litigate, the requirements of the court, the judge for your case, etc.

A store can quote you a price on their baseball glove because it knows precisely the cost. A law firm that quotes you a price on your family law matter cannot possibly know how much the case will cost. Even if your attorney has carefully analyzed the cost of the various processes in a divorce as I have done, there is no telling which or how many of the processes will be needed for your matter.

Of course it is possible to charge flat fees for some legal services. For example, in my area, attorneys who handle traffic tickets for people can easily tell you their cost to handle a ticket for you. But traffic tickets are predictable as far as cost to the attorney. A family law matter, on the other hand, does not lend itself to cost predictability. Any lawyer who quotes a price of the phone without meeting you to discuss details of your family law case is merely plucking a number from thin air. I seriously doubt the ethics of generating a random number for the price of a family law matter to quote to someone over the phone.

This is the first of two or three blog posts on this topic. As always, this essay is intended to be educational in nature, and is not a substitute for competent legal counsel. If you have a legal matter, I urge you to seek an attorney. But understand when you call the attorney, unless your matter is a simple task, asking the lawyer how much it will cost is not going to help you much. I recommend finding an attorney that insists on meeting you to discuss your case in detail before discussing pricing and costs. Such an attorney is devoted to doing right by the client, not just interested in getting a client’s money.

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