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How Much Will My Case Cost?

Billing Rates Each attorney sets his or her own billing rates and manner of payment. The experience, skill, specific practice area (such as an attorney who practices one area of the law) and the complexity of a particular case are considered factors in setting the rate an attorney’s fees. Each state has specific regulations concerning fees charged by attorneys. In our state, for example, only attorneys who have been through what amounts to a mini-bar exam in their type of practice, as well as a peer review process, may designate themselves as specialists in the type of law.

The Types of Fees

That Are Paid Flat fees are generally charged for things that are straight-forward and uncontested, such as the divorce itself. Often, the flat fee includes things such as filing fees paid to the court and the cost to serve the opposing party by sheriff. Flat fees usually involve things that can be completed in a relatively short time. Unfortunately, the cases that are filed aside from the divorce itself are less straightforward and are often contested. These include child custody and support, alimony and equitable distribution. The funds provided to the attorney are held in trust until the attorney bills your account. When the funds are gone, the attorney requests additional payment. When someone hires me, for example, the advance I require to begin working on the case is an estimate, based in part on the time I expect to spend on the case. I also consider the attorney who is representing the opposing party, and whether that attorney tends to focus on the bottom line or dispute anything and everything. It takes longer to negotiate about six disputed matters than two.

Litigation Costs

There are certain tasks that may be required in any given case, regardless of whether you want them or you are defending against them, all of which cost clients. If a case involves a deposition (testimony in a law office with a court reporter) or other civil discovery (written answers to questions and producing documents), the cost will further increase. When cases cannot be resolved in mandatory mediation, it takes significant attorney time to prepare for court, especially in property division cases when there are lots of assets and/or debts to be divided. There is an opportunity to seek attorney’s fees in certain cases but judges may choose whether to order them, and if so, in what amount they must be paid. Attorneys can sometimes keep costs down by having a paralegal or assistant manage the routine things, such as preparing motions and taking phone calls when appropriate. The billing rate for the staff person is lower than what you are billed for the attorney.

Amy A. Edwards is a family law attorney in Greenville, NC. She is certified by the NC State Bar Board of Legal Specialization as a Family Law Specialist.

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