1. Always do your homework. If your attorney asks you to gather documents, do it. It is cheaper to gather documents that you have (spending an afternoon going through the messy junk drawer that contains tax returns and bank statements) than to buy the information from somebody else.
2. Plan for your meetings with your attorney. Never, ever go to a meeting unprepared. Have your list of questions ready. It likely will take your attorney the same amount of time to answer several questions as just one question.
3. Be careful on your use of emails to your attorney. Emails make your attorney nearly always available to you – at a price. Most attorneys charge for all of the time they spend on addressing any of your comments and/or questions. So, sending a “quick email” to your attorney may really cause your expenses to increase. It also causes difficulty in the overall relationship with your attorney, because a common response after seeing your first bill, listing the 15 emails your attorney read and answered, is to cut off all contact with the attorney. This is not the answer, as it ultimately leads to more cost.
So be careful. Consider writing your email and saving it in your draft folder until you have several items to address. (Of course, this does not apply to a time-sensitive issue.) You may also want to start a “list of questions/comments” that you can provide to the attorney all at the same time.
4. Pick your battles. Dealing with a soon-to-be ex (or an ongoing dispute with an ex) can be overwhelming, and you can control the issues to pursue. If you really want to fight over the value of a used couch, keep in mind that the battle will almost always cost more than the couch.
5. Consider mediation before resorting to litigation. Parties who are forthcoming with asset and debt disclosure can save tremendous amounts of money by making a commitment to try to reach agreements without resorting to the onerous rules of the court. By working with a mediator, the parties agree to exchange information, they get to review the information and get any questions answered, and then they help create a solution that works for their family.
Read about Mary Ann Hess's fee and payment options for family law clients.