How much is too much, when paying for lawyers in financial proceedings?
The starting point for anybody in dispute about the division of assets following divorce - and considering going to court to fight about it - is to ask that very question. How much will it cost - and - is it worth it?
Putting it bluntly – will you end up spending a significant amount of the money you are arguing over?
These are not new concerns, however, under the rules of cases such as these, the court wants to know what you have spent at each hearing you attend. Concerns over rising costs and costs which are considered to be “crazy” was highlighted again in the High Court when the judge dealing with the acrimonious case between Barbara Cook and her ex Michael Parker, urged them to come to an agreement.
The pair were locked in a bitter argument over their business which supplies towels and bathrobes to high end hotels and spas. While their towels may well be fluffy and soft – their court battle was certainly not. It is reported that they had spent around £1.5 million on lawyers in a dispute over £10 million in assets. The judge warned them both that, the way things were going, they may well have nothing left to divide between them. The amount they were throwing at their case was disproportionate to what they were hoping to get out of it.
They had actually spent 15 per cent of what they were arguing over. The judge labelled this “crazy” pointing out that the only people who stood to benefit from any of it were the lawyers!
Legal costs are always a primary consideration for almost everyone who finds themselves in this position. Nobody has an endless pot of money and neither should their finite resources to fight the bitter end. The cost of lengthy and bitter court battles are not only financial, but take a heavy toll emotionally.
So how do you keep control of what you are spending in a lawyers office and how do you make sure that the outcome justifies it?
As with all legal matters, ‘the best advice is to get advice’, but there is no need to break the bank when doing so.
Many solicitors now offer ‘fixed fees’ and these are very popular. A fixed fee is simply that – the fee you pay is fixed at a certain level. If you are unsure where to turn and you need a plan many find an initial appointment at a fixed fee is the best way forward. For some this is all that is needed and so any expenditure is kept low. For others it enables them to decide how they wish or need to spend on legal costs.
When being offered a fixed fee, you should receive clear information about what is included within that fee and what is not. You should understand the extent of the work that is covered. There may be a situation when extra work is needed and you should know when this will be and how much extra you will might need to spend.
Another popular way of keeping costs down is by the solicitor to handle part of the divorce, but not all of what you need. These are rather clumsily referred to as “unbundled” services. These services also allow for ‘dipping in and out’ of legal advice as and when it is needed. For those in court it can mean just paying to have someone representing you at a hearing but doing nothing else after the hearing has taken place – unless of course further help is requested and those additional costs agreed between you.
Another thing to consider is the possibility of compromising. It is not the lawyers who keep the arguments going – we can only act on what you tell us to do. I always advise my clients to know when to walk away - choose your fight. The areas in dispute can usually be limited. Narrow the issues between you and only argue about what is a priority to you and most important. Arguing about everything will be costly on a number of levels. In the case of Cook and Parker – may be one or both of them should think about ‘throwing in the towel!’
Think about ways to avoid court involvement in a dispute at all. You don’t have to argue in front of a judge. Lawyers negotiate settlements and can get you both around a table to try and agree a solution. Mediation can bring you together with an experienced mediator to help and support you both in the goal of you both finding an agreement. Not only will these be less expensive but they will also see a resolution quicker than a court process.
Finally, choose the right lawyer. They may not be the cheapest but their level of service and their experience may ultimately mean a better outcome on all levels. To speak to a member of our family law team, call us on 01616 966 229.