An old joke of P.G. Wodehouse novels1 is the costly indulgence of sending a telegram. In the stodgy old days of vintage telegram communications, stage stars received opening-night accolades via telegram, hearts broke from pithy little memoranda, and everyone was impressed that the sender spent so much money on something billed by the word. American Telegram nowadays charges $34.95 plus $0.79 per word to deliver a same-day telegram. (Yes, you can still send telegrams.) Expensive as they are, how do telegrams compare to divorce lawyers’ fees? How does your attorney bill for services — by word, task, or time?
The old saying, “Money talks,” can actually mean two things. Sure, money has a way of getting our attention with its quiet shouting, but you can also have money talks — chats about money with a teen struggling to buy a car, with a spouse over budgets, and with your attorney about the costs of your divorce case.
Have those money talks right from the start with your divorce lawyer, so you know how much your attorney charges, and for what. For attorneys, time is money. Every moment spent on a case is billed to a client, often in quarter-hour increments but sometimes in even finer slices.
Consider your “quick telephone call” to your attorney’s office, made largely out of curiosity about your case. From your end, the telephone call may be only five minutes, but from the law office’s perspective, a lot more is involved:
- Your attorney is meeting with another client
- Your call is directed to your assigned paralegal, who pulls up your file
- The paralegal answers your question
- The paralegal adds notes about your conversation to your case file
You will see a bill for what you thought was a “five-minute telephone call,” but it might indicate 15 minutes — or even longer — because the process involved more than just actually answering your question.
You do not get billed directly for the reception staff, the computers, the telephone lines, file cabinets and office furniture. All those items are paid for through billed time you spend talking with paralegals and attorneys.
Say What Now?
A law office is a business, a word which breaks down as busy-ness; a law office is very busy. This is not to say your lawyer does not have time for you. No, your lawyer will speak with you and is always zealously protecting your rights. Your attorney knows you need to have clear communication.
Just remember, though, every minute you engage in communication — of any kind — with your family attorney, you pay for it. Just calling to chat is a waste of your money and everyone’s time. Just calling because you are curious about your case is an expensive indulgence, depending on the situation.
What kinds of communications get billed? Every kind:
- In-person conversations and interviews
- Telephone calls
- Certified mail and first-class letters
- Skype or face-timing
In other words, you cannot get a “free” chat with your lawyer or paralegal for the simple reason that your attorney has value, has limited available time, and has many people competing for that time.
Who Said That?
Not only are all forms of communication with your attorney billable to you, you will pay for time spent communicating with, or receiving legal support services, from:
- Your attorney
- Other attorneys in the same law office
- Paralegals working on your case
- Messengers and process servers
Who Copied That?
In addition to billing for time spent communicating with you, your lawyer will charge for courthouse filing fees, mailings, courtroom presentations and props needed to present your case clearly, and having legal papers served (as in divorce papers served by a process server on your wife).
Do Family Lawyers Charge for Everything?
When we say that every communication with a paralegal or lawyer is billable, we mean exactly that. Stopping by the law office in person to just get “two minutes” with your attorney or paralegal will cost you money. Stopping your attorney on the fairway will also result in a bill.
What does this mean for you? It means you need to be organized. Make every second of client-attorney time count meaningfully, and take plenty of notes. If you end up asking a question your attorney has already answered six times, you have wasted your money on your own faulty memory. Don’t get us wrong; we won’t be mad if you’ve forgotten something, but we try our hardest to make the most of your time and money.
Using your attorney to vent about your spouse is expensive, too; save that for a therapist (which most divorce lawyers heartily recommend for their clients). Limit conversations with your attorney to the legal issues, and write down all your questions ahead of time. Then write down your attorney’s answers. The same is true for your lawyer’s paralegal; write down questions and record the answers you get.
With an initial telephone call to The Firm For Men at 757-383-9184, you can set up an appointment to meet with a Virginia family law attorney to discuss divorce, separation agreements, child custody and more. We value your time, and welcome your contact by telephone or online. We seldom get telegrams these days, but we would figure out how to answer those, too.