I believe that legal fees should be reasonable. The facts of each case are critical in determining the retainer amount. Clients with significant assets will generally pay a more substantial retainer amount for a divorce since the law office anticipates engaging in discovery with the opposing party, in addition to attending and preparing for multiple court dates. Also, expert witnesses may need to be employed on complex community property cases. However, clients with average family law legal issues should expect a retainer fee that is less than a client who has substantial assets since not as many hours are anticipated working on the case. The retainer fee will be deposited in an Interest on a Lawyer's Trust Account (IOLTA), and be deducted according to the hourly fee structure. The work an attorney performs will be itemized for a client. If any portion of the fee is unearned, those unearned fees will be refunded to the client. If the case needs to be litigated at future hearing dates, etc., the client will be expected to put additional retainer amounts in trust to be billed against the work performed by an attorney. Pursuant to California Business and Professions Code Section 6211(a), “the interest and dividends earned on all those accounts (IOLTA) shall be paid to the State Bar of California…” Thus, the client is not entitled to the interest on the funds that are deposited into the IOLTA. The attorney does not receive the interest. The interest benefits nearly 100 nonprofit legal service organizations in California. Neither the attorney nor the client has a say in where the interest goes due to California law.
Clients facing a divorce with community property, debt, child support, spousal support (alimony), and child custody and visitation should anticipate paying more in attorney's fees compared to a client needing representation on a paternity case addressing child support along with child custody and visitation. However, there are circumstances where the divorce case doesn't consume a lot of hours due to an agreement between the parties, and a paternity case ends up costing more if one of the parents is unreasonable and intensely litigates child custody.
The law office offers limited scope representation in certain circumstances when a client is unable to afford a fully-retained attorney. There are some cases where limited scope representation is inappropriate, and the attorney will not accept limited scope representation. Clients may hire an attorney to represent him or herself at a specific court date. The attorney will generally charge a flat-fee of approximately $700.00 per day to represent the client at one specific court hearing. This flat-fee could range in price depending on the legal issue or issues that need to be litigated. Also, the attorney will charge more to appear at certain courthouses even if the legal issues are straight-forward due to the length of time an attorney can spend at courthouses on simple matters. Some courts are just slow in processing cases for the day in our experience. The attorney will not necessarily handle pro bono cases from individuals that call the office directly. Rather, if the attorney handles a pro bono appearance, the client will be referred from a legal aid-type of organization.
The attorney will prepare the required legal documents when the attorney is fully-retained. Also, the attorney will put the attorney's name and contact information on the legal paperwork captioning for the documents that are filed on a fully-retained basis. However, the attorney will not prepare any legal documents when the attorney is being hired on a limited scope basis. Furthermore, attorney will not put the attorney's name and contact information on client's legal documents that are filed with the court on limited scope appearances. Therefore, the client is responsible for making sure that all of the legal documents are properly prepared, filed and served. The California Judicial Council form FL-950 is generally filed on the day of court by the attorney articulating the attorney's scope of services, contact information, etc. The client will also sign a substitution of attorney to substitute the attorney off the case at the conclusion of the attorney's appearance. The attorney will file a substitution of attorney to represent the client on a fully-retained basis, and the client will sign a substitution of attorney to substitute the attorney off of the case at the conclusion of representation on a fully-retained case.
Many clients will utilize the services of a legal document assistant they find online in order to save money on legal fees. Although the client hired another entity to prepare his or her legal documents, clients would still like to hire a family law attorney to appear in court on their behalf. We recognize the need to provide affordable legal services. Therefore, the client is able to hire the attorney to appear at the client's court date if the attorney is available and accepts the appearance, but the attorney does not warrant nor guarantee any of the work that is prepared by someone outside of attorney's office.