How California Divorce Attorney Retainers Work

How California Divorce Attorney Retainers Work

Many people are unaware of exactly how California divorce attorney retainers work, so we wanted to discuss exactly how retainers work.  The biggest issue is people think that the retainer they pay for a divorce attorney in California is the total cost of the divorce, however they later learn that the retainer was only a deposit and that the cost of using an attorney for their divorce is much, much higher.  We also talk about what you will be charged for and how fast your retainer can be spent during a divorce in California.

Today, we’re talking about attorney retainers as it pertains to Divorce.

So if you’re going to hire a Divorce attorney in California for your Divorce case, I want you to know how the retainer process works because we’ve had clients who have retained attorneys prior to finding or learning of our service.

And they did not understand how the retainer service work. And they ended up spending a lot more money than they anticipated or the money they had placed on retainer they thought it was going to take care of their entire case.

And unfortunately it didn’t get them very far at all.

So let’s get in to it. If you’re going to retain an attorney for your Divorce, most if not all Divorce attorneys and I’m going to say all will ask for an upfront retainer fee.

The retainer is to retain their services. And depending on where you are in California and what the going rate is for attorneys in your area or for that specific attorney, you’re going to be looking at anywhere from $2,500 to an average of $5,000 at least in the Los Angeles area.

That’s what we’re seeing. And it can definitely more if you have an anticipated highly litigated case where lots of issues and they know they’re going to be in court a lot.

So these retainers let’s say you plopped down $5,000 for a retainer. What’s going to happen is that’s going to go on account with the law firm.

Then what happens is when they start working on your case whether it be an attorney or the Paralegal or anyone in their staff, what they do is they use a billing system to bill for the time that they spend on your case.

The attorneys are doing some work they’ll bill their hourly rate. If the Paralegal of the office is doing some work on your case they will bill at their hourly rate.

And what they generally will do is bill in point one or every six minutes increments. So if you email them, if you call them they’re billing you for every six minutes of time they spend on your case at their hourly rate.

So you can see the money can go very quickly especially when you consider you hire a Divorce attorney, they need to open up your file. That generally takes them an hour.

They need to prepare the initial documents for filing. That takes some time.

So what you’re looking at generally is about if you spend $5,000 you’re paying for about 12 hours at today’s average hourly rate for attorneys for Divorce in California.

You’re looking at about 12 hours of work on your case before you ran out of money. That’s the next thing I want to talk about.

The retainer you pay is not the total fee for your Divorce. Unless you’ve negotiated that this is a flat fee for your Divorce representation of your Divorce then that’s a different story.

But I haven’t seen that happened. There’s a very few Divorce attorneys that will work on a flat rate basis unless you have a non-contested case.

But if that’s the case you’re going to want to use our service for that. Not a law firm because you don’t need legal advice. And you don’t need an attorney.

But that retainer once that money is gone and spent, you’re on a hook for the remainder of money that they spend in time and effort on your case.

You are responsible for that additional money. And I’ll share with you my exact experiences when I work for a law firm.

People would pay their $5,000. They would generally blow through the $5,000 in about a month. And then they don’t notify their client say “Well we’ve run through your $5,000. Do you want us to keep going?”

Oh no! What they do is they blow through that. They extinguished the $5,000. And they just turned wrecking up the debt.

And the next month they will get a bill for how much additional work is going to do in their case. And usually another $5,000 or somewhere in between and the clients are shocked to learn a lot of times that they had to come up with more money.

Usually they’ll just substitute out the attorney. They are not realizing they’re going to probably spend $10,000-$15,000 or $20,000 on their case by the time they’re done.

I saw a lot of that when I worked at the law firm. And people aren’t just familiar they’re not reading their contracts, to find out that they’re on the hook for any additional billing that they do on their case.

Now with our business we still see that today. We see people coming in saying, “Tim, I spent $5,000. I thought that was going to take care of my Divorce.”

And we look at the case somewhere and see what’s been done. And literally all that’s been done is the initial paperwork was filed. And that’s it!

And nothing else was done. Maybe the attorney wrote a few letters back and forth to the other attorney but their money was gone.

And it goes fast when you’re talking about attorneys charging $300, $400, $500 per hour. The money goes very fast.

So make sure you understand how retainers work. Make sure you read the contract before you signed up a retainer agreement with the attorney.

And find out what their hourly rate is because that’s going to make a big difference on how far that money goes.