These are hard economic times, and lawyers aren’t immune either. So, it should come as no surprise that many lawyers are more competitive about what they charge their clients. There is nothing inherently bad about competition and lower rates for clients. However, I’ve seen an alarming trend in lawyers advertising for and taking on cases for ridiculously low rates for cases that under few circumstances could be handled well for such a low fee.
Here’s a prime example. I frequently answer legal questions on AVVO.com as do many other lawyers. It is my way of giving back to the community for free by steering people in the right direction. The rules for lawyers on Avvo are pretty simple. One rule is that we don’t “solicit” clients there. Recently, I saw a post asking whether any lawyers were interested in handling a custody case for $1,500.00. Despite the “no solicitation rule” on Avvo, a lawyer answered back, “Maybe. Contact my office”. I’ve handled custody cases for 20 years now, and I can assure you that there is NO WAY that a typical custody case (if there is such a thing) can be handled for $1,500.00. The filing fee for a custody complaint in family court is $150.00. The fee for a process server to deliver the lawsuit to the other parent is around $50.00 depending on how difficult service becomes. The fee for a temporary hearing to get temporary custody is $25.00. In custody cases, the court appoints a guardian ad litem to investigate on behalf of the child at the rate of $150.00 per hour with an initial retainer that can range from several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. A typical guardian retainer is $2,500.00 of which the court usually orders each parent to pay 1/2. Doing the math, the initial costs total $1,425.00 BEFORE the lawyer charges his or her fee! Ask yourself, is the lawyer willing to handle the rest of the custody case for $75.00? Probably not.
Here’s my point. You should always try to find a lawyer who meets your budget. But remember, if the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Beware of those who offer legal services at extremely low rates. Chances are the lawyer will drop your case as soon as your retainer money is gone leaving you without funds to finish what you started and, importantly, without a lawyer to help you. Or, chances are the lawyer may be “green” and doesn’t realize how much work needs to go into your case before the lawyer quotes you a stupendously low fee. Before signing on to such a “bargain,” make sure you review a written fee agreement to see if there are more fees later down the line. Also, make sure you ask the lawyer to explain to you the “costs” the lawyer anticipates in the case. For example, if your case needs an expert witness, how much does the expert charge? Will there be depositions in the case, and, if so, how many and at what cost for the deposition transcripts? Will there be lots of documents to produce and copy and, again, at what cost. If your lawyer doesn’t or can’t answer these questions based on their experience, then keep looking for other lawyers.