Fuel for Your Case: Retainers and Time Billing

Unlike doctors (and insurance companies) who can bill a set fee for a particular procedure, it would be unfair and practically impossible for family lawyers to do the same. Real estate lawyers might charge a set fee for a typical residential real estate closing, but there’s hardly a divorce or post-divorce conflict that’s “typical.” A one-size-fits-all approach would end up overcharging some clients and undercharging others.

We will charge and bill for the actual time spent on your case. This is the best way we know to fairly charge for your case. Whenever possible, we match the effort needed with the resources of our office. If a task is performed by a legal assistant or paralegal, you are charged an administrative or paralegal rate, rather than the attorney’s rate. The billable rate includes all the costs of running a law office (overhead, salaries, non-excessive paper copies, internet). Our rates are competitive with those of other Western Massachusetts law firms.

Why do we require the advance, lump sum payment of fees—a “retainer?” A retainer is like a gas tank that fuels the engine of your case. Your divorce is like a significant road trip. The trip has unplanned stops or detours. Other factors affect mileage. A good driver keeps a full (or reasonably full) fuel tank. If reaching your destination efficiently and safely is your goal, driving on empty and risking a breakdown is dangerous.

Your divorce will cost time and resources and requires an upfront investment to insure that you can pay for your divorce for all of its journey. Not having a retainer, and “running out of gas” half way through the trip, is not wise planning, and is unfair, both to you and to our firm.

We will set an initial retainer based on our estimation of the length and complexity of your case, as you present the facts to us in your first consultation. If your case reveals complications, or requires an expert, extensive discovery (e.g., depositions), these costs will be added to the retainer. If we think your case will require the equivalent of a trip through the Rocky Mountains, we will try our best to set the retainer so you have enough gasoline to get you through the steepest mountain passes.

However, our first impression of your case is often affected by factors outside our control—for example your spouse’s attitude toward litigation or opposing counsel’s intransigence. With those factors in mind, we will assess your case at least monthly and ask you to replenish the retainer if it is low. You should respond right away. We offer a “prompt payment” discount of 5% off your bill for payments received within ten days.

We want to make your retainer funds go as far as possible. To do this, we may suggest ways you can do some cost-saving “leg work” in your case, such as basic research, making initial contact with witnesses, or writing the first draft of an affidavit.

Finally, read your bill every month when you receive it. If you think there’s been a mistake, or if you do not understand any part of it, contact us right away, and we will address the problem.