Are massive unexpected legal fees in a divorce negotiable?
December 13, 2018 11:11 AM   Subscribe

In the midst of a divorce, and my lawyer's most recent bill left my jaw on the floor. It's almost as much as I've already paid him, total, for months of work. What are my options?

I'm in the midst of a non-amicable divorce that has gone on for over a year, with lots of legal back and forth. We haven't gone to court--yet--but have done a ton of mediation, custody evaluation, etc.

This is my first time at this rodeo, and I've already spent far more than I ever dreamed on lawyer fees.

it's been a long, excruciating process, but we're very close (knock on $%*@ wood) to a final settlement, and so legal fees are piling up even higher than usual.

I like my current lawyer, and I feel like he's working hard on my behalf. But his most recent monthly bill made me gasp. This one bill is almost as much as I've paid him already, total, for months of work. Like, the price of a decent car. In a best-case scenario this would take me years to pay off, and we're not even done yet.

I'm really bothered that this came out of nowhere, with no warning. He acknowledged that when I brought it up briefly, as in, "Oh yeah, I mentioned to [assistant] that we should give El Curioso a warning..." But it didn't happen.

I'm wondering what my options are. Are legal bills negotiable after the fact, like hospital bills, and if so, what's the best way to go about it? Do you contest the billable actions (did he actually need to make that call to the other lawyer, send that email, prep 8 hours for trial, etc)? Are there professionals or organizations that help with this kind of situation?

We're within a week of a final settlement--or court--so I feel like I should wait on this until after everything is (knock on $%*@ wood) signed and settled. Is that right?

YANAL, I know. But it's adding significantly to the already unbelievable stress of the whole process. I need help!
posted by El Curioso to Law & Government (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I Memailed you.
posted by HotToddy at 11:55 AM on December 13, 2018

Yes, they’re negotiable and are often negotiated.

You can nitpick the bill, and possibly looking at the details will reveal something that looks meaningfully off. But you can also just negotiate for a percentage reduction. I can’t tell you how the negotiation will go, but it’s not unusual or improper to try.
posted by LizardBreath at 11:56 AM on December 13, 2018

What is the reason for the extremely high cost this billing cycle? If there were mediations, extensive calls, etc - it might all make sense. Particularly if he is billing you the same hourly rate as always and there was just way more work this cycle. That being said, lawyers have the discretion to knock down their bills or create a payment plan.

As for professionally reviewing the bills, in my jurisdiction you can have a lawyer's accounts reviewed and the court will determine if they are reasonable. It is called an assessment of fees.
posted by hepta at 11:57 AM on December 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Legal bills are negotiable, but how does the itemization look? It shouldn't just be a number. It should give a general description of the work done, and at what rate. What's the discrepancy? There must be some reason for the spike. E.g., if you just had a major settlement conference, that's the kind of thing that requires a lot of prep.
posted by praemunire at 1:20 PM on December 13, 2018 [5 favorites]

I agree with the above and I think waiting until after everything is signed and settled is wise.
posted by purple_bird at 3:55 PM on December 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Be cautious about waiting -- in my jurisdiction, clients only have a month to start the assessment of fees process. If they don't start it within that month, then they first have to petition the court for permission.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:01 AM on December 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

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