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Low retainers in family law cases are risky for the client

As consumers, we often make buying decisions based on cost. But should you choose an attorney to handle your family law matter based on the price of your initial retainer? We believe there are many factors that should be considered in selecting an attorney for your case. We also recognize that cost is a factor. However, we believe it is only one factor among many considerations that go into picking the right attorney.

• What is a Retainer?
• Initial Retainer versus Total Cost
• How a low Retainer can Drag you Case Out Longer
• Average Cost of a Divorce in Texas
• Ways to Find Money to Fund your Divorce
• How to Reduce the Cost of your Divorce

What is a Retainer?

Most family law attorneys work on retainer. A retainer, as the term is used in Texas, is actually an advance fee system. You deposit money (the retainer) into the attorney’s trust account. The money is still your money while it is in the trust account. As the attorney works on your case, invoices are created for the work completed. The attorney then removes enough money from the trust account to pay the invoice. Therefore, the amount of money in your trust account decreases as legal work is done on your case.

Initial Retainer versus Total Cost

Most attorneys will quote an initial retainer amount during your consultation. Some lawyers even quote prices over the phone in an initial contact phone call!  Quoting prices over the phone is dangerous.  It is important to understand that this price is an initial retainer, not a flat fee. Many people mistakenly view the initial retainer as a flat fee for the entire cost. This common misunderstanding causes financial strain when the client is asked to make another trust deposit.

At Youngblood Law, PLLC, we recognize that many people must borrow money to fund their divorce. We also recognize that going back to ask for more money later is more difficult. For this reason, we quote retainers that represent the typical total cost for clients with similar facts. We also offer payment plans based on the amount of initial retainer the client can put down.

How a Low Retainer Can Drag Your Case Out Longer

Attorneys that operate on a low retainer amount often take much longer to finish the case. We are not suggesting that this is a conscious effort on the part of these attorneys. Rather, there are subconscious factors at work that result in delay.

The typical scenario works like this: The attorney quotes a low retainer amount at the initial consultation. Much billable activity occurs in the first few weeks of the case. These activities include drafting the pleadings, filing into the case, and attending an initial hearing. A low retainer will be completely gone in the first few weeks. In fact, the client may owe the attorney money if the retainer didn’t cover all the work!

At this point, work will stop on the case and the attorney’s attention will turn to other cases with money in trust. Again, this is likely an unconscious act for the attorney. Your case will stagnate until you are able to make a new deposit into trust. The longer you go with no money in trust, the longer your case will sit.

At Youngblood Law, PLLC, we do not believe in starting a case with an artificially low retainer.  First, we don’t believe it’s fair to the client.  It almost seems like a bait and switch scheme to us.  Second, the initial payment is the money we use to do work for the client.  We know how much work goes into the first few weeks of a case, so let’s just be honest.  An artificially low retainer doesn’t get the client all the work the client needs.

What is the Average Cost of a Divorce in Texas?

The total cost of your divorce will depend on many factors. Some of those factors are within your control and others are not. At Youngblood Law, PLLC, our client handbook includes a section with tips to reduce the cost of your divorce. Two of the largest factors that are outside your control are how opposing party behaves and who they pick as their attorney.

A 2015 study done by Martindale-Nolo shows that the average cost of a divorce in Texas is $15,600. Of course, this average includes many divorces that cost much less as well as those that cost much more. A study of our own cases showed the average cost of a divorce for Youngblood Law clients is well below the state average.

Nevertheless, it is not good business to cause financial strain for our clients by starting with a low retainer.  Our clients depend on us for legal counsel.  We depend on our clients to be honest with us.  Thus, trust is important in our client relationships.  Nothing says distrust like starting off our relationship unable to be honest about funding the work needed for the case.

Ways to Fund your Divorce

Many people may be tempted to divorce without hiring an attorney to save money. See our blog on why doing it yourself will likely cost you money for more information. Still, funding your divorce when you don’t have liquid cash often requires a combination of strategies.

When coming up with a retainer, borrowing money is a common strategy. Often clients seek help from family or friends. Many people also turn to bank loans and credit cards for funding. Borrowing against your retirement is another option. Deciding on funding options is a personal decision. Frequently, borrowing from family or friends is preferred because these loans typically do not include interest.

When borrowing money is not an option, another strategy commonly used is selling personal items that you can live without. In the case of a divorce, there may be  cash wrapped around your finger in the form of a wedding ring.  Certainly, the wedding ring won’t be needed after the divorce. Selling property can help pay the retainer needed to start your case.

However, if you are thinking of selling personal property, a word of caution is in order. If you or your spouse has already filed for divorce, please consult an attorney before selling anything to ensure you do not violate a TRO.

How to Reduce the Cost of your Divorce

The first step in saving money on your divorce is being strategic and thoughtful in developing your divorce plan. Through developing such a plan, you will achieve a clear view of what is truly important to you. In this way you can avoid spending money fighting for things that don’t truly matter. A thoughtful attorney will charge a retainer that makes sense for your case.

Another important way to save money is to be purposeful about how and when you communicate with your attorney. Since most attorneys bill in tenths of an hour, each email or call to the attorney’s office is a tenth of an hour. Each tenth of an hour is equal to six minutes of work. If it takes the attorney less than six minutes to read and answer the question, you are still billed for the entire six minutes.Frequent, short emails or phone calls can eat through a retainer quickly.

For this reason, we recommend that our clients create a list of non-emergency questions and concerns and email periodically. This saves money because the attorney can send one email answering all questions instead of answering, and billing, for each question separately.

Additionally, we prefer emails to calls. Our experience indicates that an email conveys the same information in less time than a call. Emails can often be sent between other tasks while a call requires more time to make. This means that an emailed response is often faster. One additional benefit of email is that it provides a record of the answer that can be referred to later.

Conclusion

Overall, we believe choosing an attorney based on the price of the initial retainer is a bad way to choose your attorney. An unusually low retainer amount can cause serious financial problems, and can delay your case.   If the attorney quotes a much smaller retainer than other firms, consider that a red flag. Likewise, if the attorney is unable to tell you the average cost of divorces for client of the firm, consider that a red flag too. While the total cost important, finding an attorney you feel comfortable with is more important.

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Youngblood Law, PLLC is a Fort Worth, Texas family law firm focusing on helping working people live the life they WANT to live through divorce and beyond.  This essay is intended for educational use only, and is not a replacement for competent legal counsel. If you are facing a family law matter, we recommend obtaining competent legal counsel like Youngblood Law, PLLC. For more information contact us at 817-601-5345, find us on the web at www.youngblood-law.com, Find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/youngbloodlawPLLC/

Paul Youngblood #beingdivorceddoesntsuck #beforeyournext #lawfw #youngbloodlawPLLC #newyearnewyou #mindsetfordivorce #divorceinnovation

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