Authored By: Christopher Pearsall, RI Divorce Attorney
a.k.a. " The Rhode Island Divorce Coach ℠ "
If you're getting divorced in Rhode Island you may have considered hiring an attorney rather than just trusting that your spouse will be reasonable and won't ask for anything unreasonable during the course of your divorce proceeding.
This is generally a good thing with one caveat . . . greedy lawyers do exist! Now, I don't believe myself to be one and I certainly have no intention of attacking or in any way defaming my own profession. The truth is, there are good lawyers out there who will look out for your interests and try to get your case done as economically as possible. Yet I would be less than helpful if I didn't tell you that there are lawyers out there who would rather blow things out of proportion and run the client's fees up so that they make a reasonable amount of money off you.
This is not a pot shot at the legal profession. There are, as many readers can imagine, bad eggs in just about every profession. It is sad that these bad eggs oftern ruin it for the good ones who give of their time, reduce their fees, take on pro bono cases and devote their time to others. Yet it is both realistic and also necessary to understand that such people do exist.
I recall two attorneys I had discussions with. They were in no way associated with each other and I did work for each of them on two different occasions during my 18 years working in law. One attorney ceased working with me several days after making this statement to me:
Chris, you'll be a real attorney when someone comes in your door and you talk to the person and your first thought is, "How much money can I make off this person?"
Needless to say, that working relationship ended quickly. I found the statement personally and morally offensive and I wasn't about to associate myself with a person who held that type of philosophy about people and what being an attorney is all about.
Another conversation was a bit less direct regarding the philosophy of what an attorney should do for clients. I was, shall we say, in a position junior to the attorney and under the attorney's direction. It went something like this.
Senior Attorney: Chris, check how much time did we put into Mr. Borsche's case. He gave us a retainer and I want to bill him.
[I checked the billing.]
Attorney Pearsall: Mr. Borsche gave us a $1,500 retainer on his civil case. Mr. Borsche is going to be pretty happy because we negotiated a very quick settlement in the case. Our time comes to less than half of the retainer so he'll get a good portion of his retainer back.
Senior Attorney: Chris, you MUST have missed some work on the billing sheets.
Attorney Pearsall: No, I double-checked and every entry is here.
Senior Attorney: Chris, you are missing my point. I'm saying that you MUST have missed something on the billing because I am absolutely certain that we have used up that retainer and I've already prepared the client that he shouldn't expect anything back.
Attorney Pearsall: I've looked over all our time. We did this case in half the time we anticipated and we got a good result for the client. There aren't any entries missing. I would know because I did almost all the work on this case and that work you did was when I was present and I have accounted for that. It's just one of those rare cases where things aren't all long and drawn out and the client didn't exhaust the retainer.
Senior Attorney: Chris, you've missed time! Plain and Simple! I am not going to argue with you. You WILL find the time and you WILL add it to the client's bill and it WILL be more than the $1,500. We have used up the client's retainer. It's inevitable. It happens all the time. Do you understand me? Is that clear enough for you?
Attorney Pearsall: Absolutely.
Senior Attorney: Good. Make sure it's done.
(Names and genders have been changed for purposes of anonymity and confidentiality)
Despite the risk to my employment and my junior relationship to the attorney, I am happy to say that I did not comply with the directions of this attorney. I billed the client the appropriate amount and arranged with the bookkeeper to send the remainder of the retainer back to the client as should have been done.
The point of sharing this dialogue is simple. There are attorneys out there who will not care about you or your case. They will care only about how much money they can make off you. I have seen firsthand how a very simple divorce is blown so far out of proportion by an attorney who simply wanted to make more and more fees off their client before settling a case.
Think about it! Seriously... I mean really THINK!
I'm an attorney. I have a client come in and there are no children, no real estate, no retirement plans, both parties work and there is no reasonable claim for alimony, no assets other than personal property but there is a lot of distrust between my client (say it's the husband) and his wife, because the wife thinks there is another woman, when the truth of the matter is that the fellow just fell out of love and can't stand living with his wife anymore.
Since the wife distrusts her husband she goes to another attorney and explains all of this but also tells the lawyer that she thinks her husband cheated on her. BINGO! If you are meeting with an attorney who wants to make some money off you then you have just given the attorney the golden goose. You have just told the attorney what to focus on to make you angry enough as a jealous wife to give your husband some "payback" for the affair that you think he had.
The next thing you know, this poor faithful guy is going through the divorce from hell because his wife's attorney is now requesting every record under the sun about bank deposits, hotel receipts, charge card receipts, etc... yet little does the wife know that she is the one suffering for this just like her husband because she has given her attorney the justification for doing work that is only intended to bill her (the wife) hundreds if not thousands of dollars in legal fees.
So what is the caveat? Shop carefully for a good attorney and keep in mind that if your attorney states he or she will do some work for you to get you some answers . . . then ask what they are doing and how much it will cost. As the client you have the power to discuss matters with the attorney and reasonably instruct the attorney as to how your case is handled. If you want an attorney to do lots of things for you then you aren't likely to get lots of resistance, though you may have a corinary when you get the bill.
Your best bet. Take your time hiring an attorney. The attorney makes all the difference!