Many factors can affect the ultimate cost of attorney fees in a family law case. This includes the complexity of the issues presented, the level of conflict between the parties, the size of the marital estate, the (un)reasonableness of the opposing party, and the individual needs of each client.
Attorney fees can be perplexing and frustrating to many clients, and can sometimes even become a source of friction between attorney and client. Understanding the attorney’s fee structure and how fees are charged, and how they must be timely paid in order to continue receiving legal services, can go a long way towards minimizing that friction, and towards helping clients recognize how to control costs to the extent that they can do so.
At Sparks Family Law, we strive to have consistent and open communication with our clients about financial matters and legal fees throughout their case. We make our fee schedule reasonable and transparent. While we may not be able to predict the ultimate cost of your case, an open dialogue about attorney fees is the only way to make you feel at ease with them so that you can focus on the substantive issues in your case.
You will find basic fee information in these pages, but you should always discuss your prospective attorney fees and costs with your attorney in advance. For your convenience, we accept cash, checks, cashier’s checks, Visa, Mastercard, Discover, American Express, Apple Pay, Android Pay, Samsung Pay and other NFC payment methods.
This is frequently one of the first questions clients ask us when they walk through our doors. An attorney’s hourly rate is based on a combination of factors, including the attorney’s experience, qualifications, expertise and overall demand in the marketplace. But hourly rates don’t tell the whole story. An inefficient or rookie lawyer with a lowball hourly rate may take three or four hours to complete a task that an experienced attorney with a higher hourly rate can finish in about an hour. We strive to be efficient and cost-effective in all services we provide.
Our hourly rates are mid-range for the Bay Area. You can probably find attorneys who will charge less per hour – and most certainly those who charge much more, but without bringing any greater skills or expertise to the table. For 2017, we will continue to keep our rates at this reasonable level and believe you will be hard-pressed to find a family law practice that will provide you with greater value in return for your fees:
Attorney – $395/hour
Paralegal – $250/hour
Admin – $125/hour
We offer discounted hourly rates – upon request at the outset of the case only – for active duty military service members and their spouses, members of the Masonic family, and those clients who can demonstrate that they are truly the victims of domestic violence.
STANDARD RETAINER – this has been the traditional way divorce and family attorneys have worked for years. When you hire us, you post a deposit (retainer) to open your account. The deposit is used to pay down your legal fees as you go along. You will receive monthly invoices detailing all of the services provided, the time it took for each service and the amount charged. When the deposit reaches a certain minimum level, you then post another deposit to replenish your account back up to the original amount. When your case is resolved, any unused retainer amount will be refunded to you.
Every client has a different initial deposit amount, and the amount is set depending on what may be occurring in your case over the next several months. Standard retainers can range anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 depending on the client matter. We still offer the standard retainer to our clients on a case-by-case basis, but the overwhelming majority of our clients will use the evergreen retainer option below. This will be a point of discussion during your initial consultation with the attorney.
EVERGREEN RETAINER – many family law attorneys have migrated from the traditional retainer model to the more modern “evergreen” model. An evergreen retainer is similar to a standard retainer. You post a deposit to open your account, the deposit is used to pay down your legal fees as you go along, and you still receive detailed monthly invoices.
However, the initial deposit you post to open your evergreen account is generally much lower than what is required for a standard retainer, and can start as low as $1,500 depending on the case. Then, when you receive your invoice each month, you pay the amount of the invoice to replenish your deposit back to the “evergreen” level.
Rather than paying a large lump sum to start your case, and then having to pay a large lump sum to replenish your standard retainer, an evergreen retainer allows you to pay a smaller deposit up front, and then pay smaller, more manageable invoices along the way. As your case winds down, we can adjust or eliminate the replenishing payment depending on what work remains to be completed. When your case is resolved, any unused retainer amount will be refunded to you.
Although we still offer the traditional retainer option on a limited basis, we have found that the evergreen retainer makes it easier for most of our clients to afford their legal fees and to stay current with their invoices, and results in less friction between attorney and client. This will obviously be an important discussion to have with the attorney as you get started.
AUTOMATIC PAYMENTS – this is an option we offer solely at our discretion and only in very limited circumstances for clients who have significant financial limitations, can demonstrate reliable and regular income from employment, and have a credit card available for automatic payments each month.
Under this option, you pay an initial deposit (usually $1,500), and then automatically pay a fixed amount every 30 days (usually $750) on a credit card. You still receive detailed monthly invoices, but you only pay the automatic, fixed amount each month. If the invoice is more than the automatic payment, then you have a carryover balance to the next month. If the invoice is less than the automatic payment, then you have a carryover credit to the next month. When your case is resolved, any carryover credit remaining will be refunded to you. If you have a carryover balance, you continue to make the monthly automatic payments until the balance is paid in full.
Depending on the case, the level of conflict and the amount of work to be done, we may have to adjust the initial deposit and/or the monthly payment amount. This will be determined at your initial consultation.
FLAT FEE (aka “FIXED FEE”) – in some circumstances, we are able to quote a flat fee for a specific service. Flat fees are quoted on a case-by-case basis, paid up front, and the scope of the services to be provided must be very clearly defined.
For example, if you need an attorney to appear with you for an upcoming hearing (e.g. a limited scope appearance), we can offer a set, fixed fee for this service. If you want to meet with an attorney prior to the hearing to discuss strategy, we can offer a set, fixed fee for the meeting. If you need an attorney to draft a motion to request certain court orders, or to respond to a motion with which you were served, we can offer a set, fixed fee for this service. And so on.
But not every case or situation lends itself to being appropriate for a flat fee. For example, we cannot perform all the services needed for an entire divorce at a set, fixed fee because we don’t know what the scope of the services will be in your particular case. We cannot perform generic tasks (e.g. “respond to discovery”) for the same reason. Flat fees are quoted and offered only for very specific, clearly defined tasks, and the practicality of this option is a point of discussion for your consultation.
We provide a variety of divorce and family law services to our clients, from traditional full-service representation to limited scope (“unbundled”) services and mediation. Please click the following links to learn more about how we can help you with your family law matter:
- Consultations, Second Opinions & Document Review
- Limited Scope Attorney Court Appearances
- Unbundled Attorney Services (“A La Carte” or “As-Needed”)
- Uncontested Divorce & Family Law Cases
- Contested (Litigated) Divorce & Family Law Cases
- Mediation Services
- Premarital Counseling & Prenuptial Agreements
Estate Planning Services
We offer a range of personal and family estate-planning services, from drafting living trusts and other special trusts to preparation and/or modification of wills and codicils. Every estate planning package includes a Durable Power of Attorney for Property and Financial Matters, in addition to a California Advance Health Care Directive, although we have drafted only these documents alone for several clients. Click below for more information:
- Living Trust and Special Trust Packages
- Last Will and Testament Package
- Trust Administration and Trustee Services
Guardianship and Additional Probate Services
Guardianship cases are billed on an hourly basis similar to family law cases as described above, with an advance deposit paid to open your account.
We will be introducing a comprehensive set of additional probate services later this year, including Estate Administration, Spousal Property Petitions, Litigation of Claims against an Estate, and Will Contests. Watch for an update in the near future.