As many people know, a divorce can be very expensive, both financially and emotionally. You can try, however, to keep the financial costs down by getting an estimate from your attorney of the total fees or you can work with a lawyer who charges a flat fee.
Michael Sherman at the Alabama Family Law Blog has an excellent post about the virtues of flat fees. I couldn't agree more with his opinion:
What will my divorce cost?
This is a question you should ask your lawyer at the initial consultation. If you are working for a lawyer that charges fixed fees like our firm does (also known as flat fees), then they can tell you exactly what the fee will be. But, even if you are working with a lawyer that charges by the hour they should be able to give you the amount of their hourly rate, the amount of the retainer and a reasonable estimate of the total fees that will be incurred. If they can't or won't then go somewhere else.
In fact, I would not hire a lawyer that is not willing to represent you in a divorce on a fixed fee. I have a strong opinion about fixed fees vs. hourly billing. I am currently putting an article together that will go into this in much more detail, but I will speak very briefly to the issue here.
Why would you hire someone to handle your divorce case that can't quote you a specific, total fee? Many lawyers will say they can't quote a flat fee on a divorce because there are too many variables to accurately estimate a fair fee. That is nonsense. There are many variables involved in building a house, but when you contract to build one, there is a set price established on the front end and agreed to by both parties. If there is unforeseen work needed, a change order is prepared. Simple, effective, fair.
The bottom line is that hourly billing (coupled with the high pressure put on lawyers to bill more hours) places an incentive on a lawyer to engage in protracted litigation. That is not in the client's best interests (particularly in the emotional turmoil of a divorce). Additionally, the client must feel like they are writing a blank check to the lawyer (because they are). Not to mention the fact that with hourly billing you are charged (usually in 6-15 minute increments depending on the lawyer) for every phone call, every e-mail, every meeting, etc. Is that any way to encourage open communication (which is absolutely necessary for effective representation)? Of course not.
I guess you get the point. My advice is not to hire a lawyer that is not willing to work on a fixed fee basis. I realize that is a controversial statement. It is one with which many of my fellow lawyers would vigorously disagree. But, I have been working on a fixed fee basis for over 10 years. I have been doing it exclusively for about 3 years. My clients love it because it takes away an unknown factor, it allows open, regular communication, and they never receive a $150 bill for a 30 minute phone call. I love it because I can focus less on tracking my time and more on resolving my clients problems (not to mention there are no such things as accounts receivable in my office).