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The Catch 22 of Getting A Rhode Island Divorce Lawyer - Take your Time When Hiring!

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Atty Chris Pearsall

Authored By:  Christopher Pearsall, RI Divorce Attorney
a.k.a.  " The Rhode Island Divorce Coach ℠ "

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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!

Rhode Island Divorce: Free Consultations . . . you get what you pay for!

There are a few things people should know about consultations.

Sadly, they don't apply just to Rhode Island divorce consultations. . . . rather it would seem that it is a trend that it applies to most free consultations involving any area of law.  So what is it?  It's the lack of good, solid legal advice.

Certainly this blog article sounds cynical.  As a divorce lawyer, I have my own opinion on things and I'm certain there are exceptions to my way of thinking and what I have witnessed . .  . in fact, I am one of those exceptions.  Yet I see very few attorneys who are quite like me.

You've heard the saying..."you get what you pay for", right?!  Well, assuming for a moment that in a Rhode Island Divorce matter or any Rhode Island legal case for that matter that you have a "free" consultation that is given by a  Rhode Island lawyer, what kind of advice do you think you are going to get from the attorney that is not getting paid for giving you valuable advice in the profession that is intended to put money on the table for him and his family and pay the bills.  You can draw your own conclusions here.  My answer is the simple one... you get what you pay for... you pay nothing  . . . you get nothing.

Another consideration is how much time the Rhode Island Divorce lawyer is giving you during this "free consultation".  Is he or she willing to answer all your questions?  Does the attorney provide you with clear cut answers to the questions he or she will answer or do they muddy the waters and say that there are too many "variables" to give you a definitive answer without explaining what those legal variables even are?

Most people get a referral from a friend, family member, the internet or the yellow pages to find a divorce lawyer.  Hey, you have to start somewhere, right?  And there's nothing wrong with that.  The second part of the process is usually to ask if the Rhode Island Divorce lawyer provides free consultations (at least in my experience my clients and prospective clients stated that they asked this during their search).

The bottom line is not only common sense, it is a practical answer.  Attorneys give legal advice and representation to clients for their living.  That is what puts the food on the table, pays for the car payment, keeps the kids in ballet and martial arts and pays the house mortgage.  Now consider that if an attorney gives you legal advice that you rely upon and the attorney is wrong...the attorney has liability and it's entirely possible that they could have a malpractice lawsuit coming their way.

Now think about that.  You are coming in the Divorce Attorney's office for a free consultation.  The attorney is going to get NOTHING from this consultation and you will be taking up his or her time which is used to pay his or her mortgage, car, etc..    AND....if the attorney actually does give you solid legal advice about your legal rights and happen to make a mistake when you rely on it, they have the joy of knowing that you can sue them for legal malpractice.

So what does this tell you about the attorney who offers free consultations if he or she is REALLY going to give you usable information?  It tells you that you have one extraordinary attorney there. 

Why?  Because this attorney is going to take time with you for NO MONEY.  During that time this attorney is going to give you valuable legal advice that should cost you $200 an hour.  Then when you leave that attorney has to be certain that he or she was right otherwise the attorney could end up on the receiving end of a lawsuit for legal malpractice.  And what did the attorney receive for that pleasure?  NOTHING!  No compensation!  No guaranteed client!

So what is the moral of this article?  Shop around. It is a very bad idea to cast attorneys aside who charge a fee for a consultation.  If they are going to charge you a fee don't you think that the attorney expects to give you valuable information you can bank on?  Absolutely!

How much does a Rhode Island divorce cost?

As a Rhode Island lawyer, I constantly receive telephone calls from prospective clients.  The question?  How much do I charge for a divorce?  It is not a question easily answered.  People often want a set fee or a maximum priced range of what their divorce might cost in total. That's understandable. People price shop and they want their divorce to be affordable.  It is entirely possible that one or more practitioners might give a rate or quote over the telephone.  However, if you are happy with what was represented to you for the quote by the attorney, make sure that your written agreement with the attorney matches what was represented.  It's one thing to say what you think you can do it for and it's another thing entirely to have it in a written contract signed by the lawyer.  Unless you have done business with the attorney before and have an arrangement with him or her, you should always get a written agreement as to what you are paying and what it covers. This is often a contract known as a fee agreement and should be signed by both you and the lawyer.

Why would there be any variation in the cost of a divorce? 

Each attorney has their own rates.  Attorneys with more experience tend to charge more based on the premise that the quality of what you are getting is better.  It's much like the expectation that a name brand Samsung 55" Ultra High Definition Smart TV is likely to cost considerably more than a TLC 55" Ultra High Definition Television because Samsung is reputed to produce significantly greater quality products.  Some lawyers charge a set hourly rate for based on the whole case, specific aspects of a case or different types of cases.  Many attorney's rates may also be linked to his or her overhead expenses to run their law practice. Court time may also be charged differently from non-court time.  Trial time may also be charged differently from investigative time or case preparation time in order to facilitate settlement and save the client money.  Costs may be factored into an hourly rate with some attorneys but may be billed separately by other attorneys.  Some attorneys may charge a flat rate for a block of time and others may charge a flat fee for a type of matter such as an uncontested divorce.  In truth, there is any number of variations for an attorney's fee or rate.

For my part, my greatest variation is with the financial situations of my clients.  Depending upon the financial situation of a particular client, the complexity of his or her matter,  whether the case has already been filed or whether it is likely to be forced to go to trial are all factors that I use to determine the rate I will charge. In my case, each client's matter is priced on its merits so that clients are treated fairly in terms of fees. Clients with extremely complex cases will get traditional fees whereas clients with easier cases tend to get reduced fees.  My philosophy is that a person with an easier case who does not tax the divorce lawyer's knowledge and resources should not reasonably be charged the same amount as the person who has a highly complex case because you are not getting the same level of services.

Ultimately, no attorney has a crystal ball to predict the posture a court may take, the actions taken by an opposing attorney or the client or circumstances that may arise during the course of the divorce.

It is disappointing that there are attorneys who will quote a "one size fits all" rate for all clients without consideration to the degree of work that needs to be done or its complexity.  While a one size fits all rate benefits the attorney, it causes the client with an easier case to pay the same rate as the client with the more difficult case.  This creates what may be a rather unfair or disproportionate result.

So, how much does a divorce cost?

If you get an answer to this question without having met with the attorney or having given the attorney all the facts necessary to properly evaluate the case . . . the price you have been given may just be "bait" to get you into the office and convince you to retain them under what is perhaps more onerous and more costly financial rates or terms.

Every divorce is different and there is no specific or even average cost for a divorce unless a lawyer quotes you a flat fee and guarantees it in writing.  This is usually only true in what is clearly an uncontested case where you have already worked out a settlement agreement with your spouse.