As a lawyer and a couponer, I cringe when I see people wasting money on legal fees. In the world of law and order, time is money–your money! Here are a few tips to save on legal fees:
Know the Fee Arrangement: Hourly or a flat fee for service. Paying on a contingent basis? If you aren’t sure, that is a question you must ask. Understanding the fee structure allows you to make the most of an attorney’s time. For example, an attorney may bill a minimum for office visits, telephone calls or trips to court. Ask for a breakdown up front.
Get Organized: Organizing paperwork, proof and other items before heading to an attorney’s office can save the counselor time and money. Part of my practice is estate planning and probate law. Much of this work entails accounting for estate funds and reviewing people's assets and liabilities. The client with the best chance to save money comes in organized so I don’t have to spend billable hours sorting through bank statements and receipts to find where the money went. DO NOT show up with a box of mixed papers. Get organized. Clip bank statements together in chronological order. Have extra copies of important documents like deeds, tax returns, and death certificates. Keep a running tally of expenses.
Designate a Representative: The majority of attorneys charge for telephone calls. In amicable situations where others are involved, oftentimes multiple people will call the lawyer for the same reason. For example, if one sibling is an executor/personal representative for their parent's estate, their siblings may call the attorney frequently for "status updates." Designate one person to speak with the attorney and ask questions for everyone. Have the representative person report back to the group. Don't pay for the same answer twice!
Don’t DIY: While I always appreciate a client who has done her homework, many people attempt to save money on these DIY websites–and end up costing themselves and/or their families much more in the long run. Lawyers are here to help (honestly)!
Drafting your own will, contract, or other legal document is never a good idea. State laws are very specific as to requirements for executing legal documents and DIY websites often cannot or do not cover all these areas. The end result includes not only having to pay to have it done again by an attorney, but likely paying to undo the mess created by the DIY document in the first place.
For example, drafting a will online may seem like an inexpensive way to complete an unpopular task. Some pay $59 for an online will because a lawyer quoted a few hundred more. However, if executed improperly, the will becomes void and property passes by state law and not by your wishes. If a will is contested in court it can cost an estate even more money to sort things out.
Dealing with any legal issue is definitely a stressful situation. Save yourself stress and money by understanding your fee arrangement, keeping organized, designating a lead person to interact with the attorney, and avoiding DIY legal documents. Always feel comfortable asking for help–that’s what lawyers are there for.
Disclaimer: this article does not constitute legal advice nor create an attorney-client relationship. All legal work and questions should be directed to a qualified attorney.
This has been a guest post by Kristen from Stoughton, MA