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Maryland’s authoritative guide to divorce.

It is important to understand how attorney’s fees are structured, what you can expect to be charged and how much your case may cost. Before you speak with a lawyer, it is helpful to be armed with this information so that you may ask questions.

Attorney’s fees

Attorneys most typically charge an hourly fee for whatever work is performed on your divorce. These fees can range from $225 per hour up to $500 per hour, depending on the size of the law firm and the area where the attorney is located. Lawyers will charge a “retainer fee” for ongoing cases, which is an amount of money which must be deposited into a special trust account. In Maryland, this trust account is governed by the Bar Association and lawyers are strictly regulated as to how the money may be used. While the money is in the trust account, it belongs to you, the client. As the lawyer bills you, the fees for the bills are taken from the trust account and the bills are paid. Some lawyers deplete the trust account and then you will need to pay the bills thereafter. However, many divorce lawyers use an “evergreen” retainer, which requires the client to replenish the retainer up to a certain level. Typical levels are $3,000 for non-litigated cases and $5,000-$10,000 for litigated cases. Any money not earned by the attorney gets returned to you by the end of the case.

In certain types of cases, lawyers will charge a flat fee. Typically, these are charges for uncontested divorces where the parties already have a Separation Agreement or a Domestic Violence Protective Order, a typical cost may be $1,000 to $1,200 plus a $185 court cost (filing cost). Lawyers do vary their flat fees depending on the complexity of the matter. For example, if you have a Protective Order where each spouse has filed against the other and there are a large number of documents, the flat fees might be higher.

Another legal fee method is “unbundled legal service,” in which a lawyer will represent a client in one piece of a case for a lesser retainer or a flat fee. Clients who utilize limited service attorneys are comfortable handling most aspects of the case and bring the attorney in only for the most difficult areas. In 50 percent of the cases, an unbundled legal client becomes a full-service client, particularly when the case is in the court system.

There are instances where no retainer fee is necessary, and a client is charged by the hour. These “pay-per-service” clients are limited to pre-paid calls or meetings and are most appropriate for divorce planning or for legal coaching, if you intend to handle the case yourself.

Attorneys in the same firm may charge different rates. Partner’s rates are often hire than associate attorney rates. If you do not feel your case is complex, ask the partner whether you can work with an associate to reduce your legal costs. Many law firms also utilize paralegals to help keep the costs down--rates are less than one-half of the rate an attorney may charge. The Wobber Law Group is fortunate to have a paralegal with a social work background, who is the first line communication for clients. Paralegals are often very knowledgeable about the law and can help you, without having to involve the higher priced attorney. When deciding whether to hire an attorney, you should ask about the attorney’s use of paralegals to assist in cost savings.