Understanding Legal Fees and Costs
First you should understand that in any legal case there are certain fixed expenses that the lawyer must pay on your behalf. These expenses include the “filing fee” that must be paid to the court any time a case is started, or any time a motion is filed. For example, when a party files a divorce the filing fee that must be paid to the court is almost $200 without minor children, and approximately $300 with minor children.
In Michigan, family law attorneys generally charge clients at an hourly rate for the amount of time that they must work on a case. The hourly rate may vary slightly from lawyer to lawyer, but you will find that the hourly rate is fairly consistent among good lawyers in your area. If a lawyer’s hourly rate is considerably less than most of the other lawyers in town, it may be an indication that he or she is not as experienced or as competent as the other lawyers. Remember, like anything else, you usually get what you pay for!
Charging clients at an hourly rate is fair for both the client and the lawyer. If your case is more difficult and takes more of the lawyer’s time, your legal fees will be higher than those of a client with a quick and easy case!
The next thing clients need to understand is the retainer. A retainer is simply a “down-payment” on your case. Since neither you nor the lawyer know exactly how much time will be involved in your case, an experienced lawyer makes an “estimate” of what he or she needs to “get started.” The retainer is used to pay initial expenses, such as filing fees, as well as the initial hours of the lawyer’s work. Once your retainer has been “used up” by expenses and lawyer’s hours, you will be billed for any additional expenses or hours worked, at the agreed upon hourly rate.
There are many things that a client can do to reduce the number of hours that a lawyer works on their case, thereby keeping their own legal costs down. For instance, clients who can reach an agreement with their spouse on issues such as custody, visitation or the division of property without engaging their lawyer in prolonged fighting or negotiations will have much lower legal fees than a client whose lawyer must spend hours fighting over every detail.