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According to news reports this week, Britney Spears is planning to contest some of her divorce attorney’s legal fees, arguing that they are too high.

Whether you’re Britney Spears or Brittany Smith, divorce can be a costly venture – and being overcharged by a divorce attorney can be a real issue.

According to FWW’s Diana Mercer, a California attorney who specializes in mediation and is the author of “Your Divorce Advisor,” when clients feel they’ve been overcharged, the first step is to ask for an itemized billing and compare it against your own notes of phone calls, court dates, letters, and work you know the lawyer did.

“Your best action is to do this all along during the case,” she says. “Most attorneys bill you each month (and if they don’t, ask them to) so review your bill carefully each month and bring it to the attorney’s attention if you think you’re not getting good value for your money.”

Attorney Gregg Herman, the family chair of the American Bar Association, says that the client should also reflect on the conversations they have had with the lawyer.

“Good professional lawyers always assess the cost/benefit ratio to a client in recommending a particular course of action,” he says. “Ask to meet with your lawyer to discuss your concerns. Perhaps the lawyer can explain the bill to your satisfaction — or make an adjustment so that you are both comfortable with it.”

If talking with the attorney doesn’t give you the result you’d hoped for, you can ask the local bar association about its fee dispute mediation program.

“In Los Angeles, both the Los Angeles County Bar Association and the Beverly Hills Bar Association have fee dispute mediation panels comprised of laypersons and lawyers who help lawyers and clients resolve fee disputes,” adds Mercer. “And, there’s always the state bar association grievance procedure. It won’t get your money refunded but it will force the attorney to explain why the bill is so high to the bar association.”

There are other issues at play, however.

Mercer says that all too often, at the beginning of a case, a client will say “We need to find every penny! I don’t care how much it costs! I want justice!”

The kind of investigation and discovery necessary to do everything the client asks is expensive and time consuming — and probably not worth the expense.

Most attorneys will attempt to explain this to the client only to be met with, “You are working for ME, not my spouse. Are you on my side? It sounds like you don’t want to do the job I’ve hired you for so unless you’re going to do what I’m asking I’m going to fire you.”

So the attorney gets to choose between doing what the client asks for, knowing it probably isn’t worth what the client will spend, and getting fired.

Most attorneys choose the former.

As the case proceeds along, the client calms down, and the case eventually settles, suddenly all this urgent, necessary work which the client demanded the attorney do early in the case is seen as unnecessary, overly expensive and, now that the case has settled, worthless. Never mind that the client doesn’t remember that he or she demanded that the work be done, and that “I don’t care what it costs” was the instruction a few months ago.

Because emotions run high during divorce, another mistake clients often make is to use their attorney as a therapist.

As much as you may need to vent and have someone listen to your frustrations, it’s important to remember that lawyers aren’t trained to provide psychological advice. Furthermore, they charge by the hour — and generally much more than a therapist would.

Lastly, be sure to do your homework before every meeting with your divorce attorney. Research basic information on the web, carefully organize all of your documents, and keep a list of questions handy for every phone call.

The time you save on the phone with your attorney could be money saved for the next chapter of your life.


Click the following to return to the Divorce Resource Directory.

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  • Comment Link Connie Monday, 20 March 2017 03:27 posted by Connie

    My attorney took his fee off the top of my settlement and never sent a bill. Scheduled an appt. to see bill and he said he sent it and couldn't give me another cause copier was broke. When I started asking questions about bill he said he was done and to get out. When I said I only wanted an explanation he told me to leave or he would call the police!! I received a bill a week later but very sketchy and very high. 8500.00 for a simple 6 yr marriage no children.

  • Comment Link R GRANTHAM Monday, 04 January 2016 13:00 posted by R GRANTHAM

    Great advice. What about being billed. For meeting s that have. Been set. Then charged for cancellation. Then rebilled and reschedule. Because. Other attorney. Had another. Obligation . Or billed. For new email. Account. Or phone. Number. Ye

  • Comment Link Guest Friday, 08 March 2013 17:21 posted by Guest

    My attorney has not negotiated one single issue in my divorce. My husband and I have brokered the entire agreement and we still cannot seem to get things moving to a final decree. This has been going on for 18 months. The bills are piling up with no resolution in sight. My attorney seems to be in cahoots with opposing counsel. Before a deposition in opposing counsel's office, my attorney met behind closed doors with opposing counsel. When asked what was discussed, he said he was assisting opposing counsel with a brief he was writing on another case. And of course I paid for that time! Weeks go by without any communication and when I receive something, it is usually non-responsive to any questions I have asked. I receive absolutely no legal advise whatsoever. He simply asks what I want to do. What recourse do I have other than firing him? Is there any chance of getting back any of the money I have paid? Also, he is holding the proceeds of the sale of two marital properties and takes his legal fees out of this money. Is that legal?

  • Comment Link Guest Sunday, 26 February 2012 09:39 posted by Guest

    Misrepresented & Overcharged: My girl friend got divorced a year ago & the law firm I mistakenly recommended mishandled her case & she wound up losing her house & to make matters worse, she went into debt to pay for the retainer fee & while in court, her lawyer called their office & told her that her bill was $20,000 more than what it should have been. My girl friend already paid them $10,500 that they never reflected on their bill & now, she still owes them $27,000+ interest. She got $13,000 payable in monthly installments , at $750 for approx 16 months but incurred 37,000+ in lawyers fees. I feel so bad since she trusted me & in effect, I made her lose her house & now she's depressed from being badly in debt. What can we do? Please tell us who or what organization we can turn to to help us dispute these exhorbitant legal fees that my friend is being charged from her divorce.

  • Comment Link Guest Wednesday, 31 March 2010 07:03 posted by Guest

    Good job nice blog.: Good job nice blog.

  • Comment Link Guest Saturday, 13 June 2009 05:07 posted by Guest

    Affordable divorce attorneys: When People are contemplating filing for separation, they choose best and affordable divorce lawyers. Divorce lawyer is one who charges the least amount to represent them in their divorce case. These attorneys providing affordable services to troubled couple seeking a divorce and related issues such as child custody and visitation and many other. Divorce lawyers provide different information to their client regarding to further process in divorce or to resolve the marital problems.