Why use a Certified Specialist* when I can find a lower cost attorney?
Family law is an area requiring experience, knowledge of the law, and knowledge of the community in which your matter arises to have effective representation. Critical questions often are answered by knowing the judge and the court you find yourself in, knowing the players, knowing the law, and giving advice based on experience and strategic smarts. Many decisions made in family law are part of a balancing test. Spousal support (alimony), child custody, and business valuation are key examples. In these cases, experience and understanding how decisions are made is critical. By hiring a certified specialist, you can ensure that your attorney is experienced both practically and understands the law. Certification requires attorneys to prove that they have experience in a variety of family law areas and requires the attorney to pass an extensive test aimed at demonstrating mastery of various aspects of family law. For more information about the standards for certification, visit http://rules.calbar.ca.gov/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=8X1vLyj1V1w%3d&tabid=1149
When you hire a certified specialist you can be assured that the attorney meets both the practical and experiential requirements and has demonstrated mastery of the substantive family law necessary to be designated a specialist.
*The State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization certifies lawyer in a variety of areas, including Family Law. A specialist certified in family law often adds the designation “CFLS” to indicate they are a Certified Family Law Specialist.
Why hire an attorney at a law firm rather than a solo or small firm? Won’t I be paying for a lot of overhead or training junior staff?
At Sefton Family Law Group, we have strength in numbers. Your lost cost solo may be lacking in experience, knowledge of the law, knowledge of the judge and court, or knowledge of the players. Our team of lawyers can cover more territory and know more people in the family law community than one or two attorneys working on their own. We collaborate and share best practices in the firm and have created efficiencies for dealing with many of the routine tasks in a family law matter—something a one or two person firm simply cannot achieve.
We are smart in our size. By having a team of professionals, we can create a more cost-effective representation for you. For example, in one of our cases the lawyer on the other side charged $500 per hours to scan documents (likely because she had no staff). By having a team of professionals, we can ensure that the lowest cost professional is doing the work that is suited for their skill level and experience and at the lowest cost to the client. For example, in divorce cases, generally, each party must complete a Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure. At our firm, these documents can often be prepared in a much more cost- effective manner through the use of legal assistants and administrative staff instead of using an attorney. In fact, because we have administrative staff that does not bill, oftentimes our clients are not billed for some routine administrative tasks. A solo has to bill all their time and prepare administrative tasks because they have no or limited staff.
Because we are a firm, we invest in our staff. We have in firm protocols to more efficiently meet our clients’ needs and we invest in training our professionals to provide services to our clients. Part of that training is “hands on.” As a result, many times you will have the benefit of two lawyers in a meeting or going to court but only be charged for one. Here you get the benefit of two lawyers and we provide hands on training to more junior attorneys.
Further, because we have a team of professionals, it is likely that you will always be able to talk to a real human being during business hours. Because family law is often stressful, you will have the peace of mind knowing that you won’t be caught leaving a voicemail or in an electronic phone tree. You will actually have a person to talk to and respond to your concerns.
When considering hiring an attorney ask about the billing rates of the professionals in the office and whether the attorney has administrative staff available for which you will not be charged. Be a smart consumer of legal services. Don’t pay one price for all legal services in your family law matter. You should pay for the skill, experience, and knowledge necessary for your representation. This is an area where “one size” does not fit all.
Why am I being charged for an initial consultation?
Our services are provided on an hourly basis. Unlike other attorneys, we do not charge a success fee or get paid based on the outcome of your matter. Our goal is to efficiently resolve your case and in many instances, our fees end up being modest. As a result, we only charge for the time we spend. Therefore, every hour of our time is valuable and takes away from our other clients.
Further, our consultations generally involve providing confidential information to us and thereby bound us to keep your information confidential as party of an attorney-client communication. Even if you do not hire us, an initial consultation often precludes us from representing other individuals in your matter. So, the decision to meet and consult with you may have lasting implications for our ability to represent others in our community. Consequently it is standard practice in family law that quality attorneys charge for their time taken for an initial consultation.
Because we charge for initial consultations, we try to have the meetings be productive so that you receive value for our time and your time spent in the initial consultation. Please come prepared with your questions and we will do our best to make the time valuable.
Finally, in appropriate circumstances when the consultation leads to a substantive matter, we consider waiving the consultation fee from the first invoice in the matter after a representation agreement is executed and retainer provided.
We look forward to working with you.
How much will my matter cost? If it is a simple premarital agreement/postmarital agreement/cohabitation, please quote me a price.
Many clients believe that their matter is simple and want a quote for a “standard agreement.” Just as your relationship is unique, your agreement will likely be unique, too. Each couple comes to us with different needs and different goals. Depending on your needs and how aligned yours goals are, the cost can vary widely.
Beware of “standard” or “form agreements,” if you hear about this you are getting sold and may regret the consequences. If you want to invest the time and energy to enter into these agreements, do it right and your money will be well spent. You should prepare disclosures to ensure that both parties understand the issues in the agreement. Spend the necessary amount of time with your attorney to understand the legal and practical realities of having an agreement. We have had many cases where parties entered into a “standard agreement” only to find deep regret that the cookie cutter form they found online or through a friend trying to be thrifty led to serious and expensive mistakes when implemented. Please don’t fall into that trap. Further, using “standard agreements” can lead to deep divisions between couples. Please do not fall prey to the superficial “easy” solution of a standard agreement prepared to protect only one party as a starting point of your discussions about your financial future. Those cases end up costing lots of time and precious energy in difficult negotiations and prolonged drafting periods. At worst, the parties’ relationship can be deeply wounded.
We prefer to work in a collaborative style to make sure both parties’ needs are met. We meet with our client and determine high level goals and ensure that the couple is of one mind before we start drafting. We advocate group meetings (lawyers and clients) before the agreement is prepared to avoid prolonged drafting periods. For all agreements, we work from forms that we have created over the years and update routinely to ensure that we create the right, cost-effective, agreement for you. We use varying levels of staff to keep fees to a minimum. Know that we will work “smart” to ensure that your agreement meets your needs.
Ultimately, you know yourself and your partner better than we do. Without knowing your situation, we cannot accurately determine how much time will be involved in your matter. We are happy to give you a budget once we have met, learned about your circumstances, and explained to you the varying choices available in these agreements. Let us help you be strong, smart and steady in your choices regarding these agreements. We find that clients that are focused on the end goal, an agreement reached in concert with their partner, and not those focused on cost, end up with the best agreements at the lower cost.