How Lawyers Determine Their Fees

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How do lawyers decide what to initially charge?

Some firms have a policy about what retainers are charged with specific types of matters. For example, a firm may request a $7,500 retainer for every divorce and $3,500 for every motion.

Some practitioners, like those in my firm, set the retainer amount on the basis of the specific facts of the case.  They may get the sense that the two people involved are very close to agreement and the matter will not be as expensive, and charge a lower rate. Or they may find that there is a particularly unreasonable adversary or a contested matter of custody, and decide the rate needs to be higher.  There is no standard required rate or legally binding requirements on lawyers for the initial retainer quote.

We are not permitted to charge unreasonable fees, but what is unreasonable in a world where some divorces can cost as much as $100,000 or more?

Just know this:  whatever your lawyer charges as a retainer in an hourly matter may not be the end of what you are responsible for. Don’t pay the retainer and think that you don’t need to put anything additional aside for legal bills. There may be more.

A good lawyer will work hard to try to keep your costs down by meeting your goals early through negotiation whenever possible. This is not always possible as very often adversaries are unreasonable and divorces can last up to a year or more.

And always bear in mind that the sometimes the biggest variable in how much you will be charged is you. If you are calling your lawyer and demanding to talk for half an hour every time something is making you nervous, your lawyer may be fine with doing that, but it is definitely costing you a lot of money.

To learn more about what you can expect from your lawyer, check out Lynda’s new book, Breaking Up: Finding and Working with a New Jersey Divorce Attorney.

For a free consultation about your legal matter, call us at (856) 227-7888, or contact us at [email protected]. We have locations in Camden, Burlington, and Gloucester counties, and are happy to discuss your legal options.



The above is not specific legal advice nor does it create a lawyer-client relationship. Do not rely upon it without consulting an attorney to see how the information presented fits your unique circumstances.

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