Lawyers fees vary widely. Lawyers are thus not like Doctors, or accountants, or plumbers in that way.
Lawyers’ fees vary based on numerous factors, such as experience, where the office is located (you pay more for a lawyer whose office is in Manhattan or Westchester, for instance) as well as caseload.
When a firm or individual lawyer carries too many cases, there are more of a “mill” – it will be hard to get them on the phone, they won’t be prepared on your court date, and they won’t do the proper research or follow-up to ensure you get the best results.
As part of a court case (Nicholson v. Scopetta, SDNY) a few years back, the heads of each Attorney for Children panel (in the 1st & 2d Depts, which covers NYC, L.I. & lower Hudson Valley) were asked under oath what an acceptable caseload was for Family Law attorneys. Their answers were telling – both agreed an acceptable caseload was 50-70 cases. But another way, if an individual Family Law attorney has more than 70 cases at any given time, this would be an unacceptably high caseload. This also arguably means that attorney is neglecting at least some of his/her cases.
Here’s a good story from one of my cases which demonstrates the point. I represented a husband on a contested divorce matter. The wife was represented by one of my competitors from across town. The wife hired the firm because the “Top Attorney” in the firm seemed like he had good credentials. However, the minutes she signed up with them, they passed off her case to an ill-experienced Associate.
Long story short, the Associate didn’t think to ask for disclosure of all of my client’s retirement accounts. Turns out he had 2 – a pension and a 401k. But they only asked for distribution of his pension. We had no obligation to disclose the other account, simply because we were never asked.
After the settlement was done and the Judgment signed, the Wife questionned why she wasn’t also getting distribution of my client’s 401k. Too late! Once the settlement is signed, the Courts rarely allow it to be vacated. And because of the inexperience of her attorney, the Wife was left out of getting approximtely $50,000 in assets she could have otherwise received.
Of course, it seemed tempting at the time to only spend a few thousand dollars to retain her attorney for a contested divorce case. But she learned the hard way that you get what you pay for. And that investing in a good attorney right from the start will pay dividends which you may not even realize.
Thus, ASK YOUR PROSPECTIVE ATTORNEY how high their caseload is – be sure it’s the total, including all areas of law, and including “dead cases.” Don’t let people be sneaky with you just to get your business – your case, your assets and/or your children are worth the time to make sure you’re hiring someone good!