Prospective clients frequently want to know how much their divorce will cost. One of main components of the cost of the divorce is legal fees. Although I am unaware of any published statistics, most Chicago family lawyers charge hourly for their legal services. There are good reasons for billing by time that benefit both attorney and client. Your attorney cannot predict or control how uncooperative, unreasonable or litigious your spouse and his or her attorney will be. If your spouse takes unreasonable positions, it increases the time your divorce attorney has to spend on your case. Your spouse and his or her attorney may slow the case down by being unresponsive or unavailable. Some clients demand more attorney time than others by calling or emailing frequently or by not understanding or following legal advice or instructions. Your attorney cannot predict or control how much time you will require. When your attorney goes to court on your behalf she does not know how many cases will be called before yours or how long the hearing will require. Most divorce and family law attorneys require an initial retainer in order to accept your case. An initial retainer is not a fixed fee. As the attorneys and/or paralegals spend time on your case, the firm is earning and applying the retainer. The initial retainer is also applied toward the court’s filing fees. If the initial retainer is depleted prior to conclusion of your case, you may be asked to replenish the retainer or your retainer agreement may require that you keep a minimum retainer balance. If your spouse and you do not settle and your case goes to trial, many attorneys require that a “trial retainer” be paid before trial. The trial retainer is often considerably larger than previous retainers since preparing for and handling a trial requires a significant amount of time and expense. Trials are expensive and time-consuming.
As the client, you want a divorce attorney that will continue to work and give your legal matter and you sufficient attention until the representation is concluded. If an attorney accepts your divorce or family law case for a specified fixed fee, he probably calculated the fee by estimating the number of hours he thinks your case will require. If, however, your case requires more than the hours he estimated there could be a problem. Will your case get the attention it needs? Will he still return your calls? Will the quality of his work start to suffer?