What should I ask at the initial consultation?
To the extent the attorney fails to cover these
points, you should ask how the divorce procedure works, how long
it will take, how available the lawyer is, how many cases he has
tried, how many he has handled (many cases settle without ever
going to trial), how much it will cost, how charges are
determined, whether you are billed for telephone calls, who else
will be working on your case, whether you will have to go to
court, what happens if you reconcile, what information the
lawyer needs from you.
What is a retainer?
Many lawyers will not represent you unless you pay a lump sum
fee to the lawyer before he begins doing any work. This fee is
called a retainer, because, by paying the fee, you have retained
that lawyer to work for you. When the attorney works on your
case, he subtracts from the retainer his hourly billing rate
until the retainer is used up. For example, if you pay a lawyer
$2,500 and his billing rate is $100 an hour, your retainer will
be used up after 25 hours. Some lawyers will then bill you on a
monthly basis for additional work, others will ask you for a new
lump sum fee.
The arrangements you and your lawyer reach should be in writing,
in a document called a "retainer agreement." Be sure you
understand each term before you sign the retainer agreement.
Know what happens if you can't afford to pay the lawyer after
the retainer is used up.
In addition to legal services, a lawyer may use the retainer to
pay for disbursements, such as photocopies, postage and court
fees. In addition, if a court reporter or a process server (a
person who, for a fee, presents legal papers to another person)
is needed in your case, the lawyer may use the retainer to pay
for those services or he may ask you to pay them directly to the
provider of services. Be sure that is spelled out in the
retainer agreement as well. Even though both sums will
eventually be paid by you, the source of the funds may affect
your cash flow.