Protecting your wallet when getting legal advice

October 9, 2015

Getting legal advice isn't something that most of us do often enough to know how to go about it properly. So we have some advice for how to go about getting legal advice and keep costs down.

Protecting your wallet when getting legal advice

1. Start with free legal advice

  • For a lot of legal situations, it makes sense to get the lay of the land with any one of a myriad of free legal services.

Start with, a no-cost federal service that offers legal information on 1,000 topics within 35 areas of law, from human rights to tax law. It also provides links to organizations that may be able to help.

  • Golden-agers can log onto the government website, which has a legal matters section specifically geared to seniors.
  • Younger folks have other options. If the problem is with a company or public utility, contact the company's customer service (or complaint) department.
  • Civil rights organizations, women's groups, tenants hotlines and a lot of other volunteer agencies will help you out in certain situations. If you're going to search the yellow pages for a lawyer anyway, consider trying one of the free advice services first.

2. Get your legal advice à la carte.

Think of a lawyer as the legal version of an electrician.

  • Just pay for the specific service you need. Take a simple, uncontested divorce, for example. You can probably handle most of it yourself, but you may need a professional to, say, review a particularly confusing document or simply to vet the agreement to ensure it's fair.
  • If that's the case, call your lawyer, ask how much it will cost you to have that (and only that) done, and proceed accordingly.
  • This pick-and-choose approach — or "unbundling," as it's sometimes called — will save you money whilst allowing you the legal help when and if you need it.

3. Watch out for additional costs

When you do hire a lawyer, be aware that you may face a lot of unexpected charges. Here are some to keep in mind.

  • You can be charged for telephone calls. Time is money, and phone calls take time. Make sure any call to your lawyer is really necessary.
  • They charge for travel time and transportation costs — even if they're just going across the street.
  • The hired help costs money too. Every time a paralegal looks something up in the law library or a secretary types up a document, you can be charged for it.
  • Billing rates vary according to the rank of the attorney doing the work. Partners in the firm cost the most. That doesn't mean you're wasting money, though. More experienced partners may resolve your case faster.
  • Insist on an itemized bill each time you're billed. You'll learn where you're needlessly and unknowingly running up expenses. Then you can adjust your interaction with your lawyer accordingly.

4. Save it up

You will pay less if your lawyer addresses all of your questions in one sitting, rather than haphazardly throughout a week.

  • Many lawyers have a minimum charge for phone calls or meetings, even if they're only a minute long — so gather your questions and deal with them all at once.

5. Do some of the legwork yourself

Organize your documentation.

  • Going through a divorce? Prepare a concise summary of assets and liabilities with supporting paperwork, then compile a one-page summary of the marriage, including what roles each of you played, special needs of the kids, special expenses and whether either party received inheritances or out of the ordinary financial payouts.

6. Take notes

  • Keep clear notes of what your lawyer is saying so that you can refer back to them when necessary.

7. Let your lawyer know you're on a tight budget

  • Simply informing your lawyer that you aim to keep your legal fees to a minimum makes a difference.
The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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