Author Topic: Is that what a lawyer costs?!  (Read 2423 times)

mountainmama

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Is that what a lawyer costs?!
« on: August 15, 2020, 06:09:57 PM »
My partner and I have decided to sign an agreement to set up how we would split our assets and debts if we ever decided to part ways. Sort of like a prenup, but as an unmarried couple. After searching the internet and not really getting my questions answered, I decided I reach out to a lawyer to get some advice. I got a rec for one and called her. She told me her hourly rate was $300!! I thought it would be less than $200/hour. Am I right to be shocked? Or am I just naive?

G-dog

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Re: Is that what a lawyer costs?!
« Reply #1 on: August 15, 2020, 06:50:00 PM »
Yes.

That may be a bit high - but it depends on where you live, how much experience / expertise the person has, and how complicated the work would be.

I worked in a technical area of law, where attorneys have to get another certification.  That was 5 years ago, and the hourly fees were in that range. Not long ago there was a glut of attorneys.  I would expect that to hold costs down a bit. But we are in crazy times, and a lot can change in 5 years.

Call some more folks to get an idea of the typical rate in your area. Also get them to give you an estimate of the time to do the work and total cost.  They will use a template form to do the work, but they also need to be careful to be sure that all their edits specific to you are correct.

You may want to ask about issues specific to your current state, and implications should you both move to another state before you break up.


Malcat

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Re: Is that what a lawyer costs?!
« Reply #2 on: August 15, 2020, 07:15:46 PM »
I'm working with 2 lawyers right now, and they each cost nearly $600/hr.

AMandM

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Re: Is that what a lawyer costs?!
« Reply #3 on: August 15, 2020, 08:32:49 PM »
My partner and I have decided to sign an agreement to set up how we would split our assets and debts if we ever decided to part ways. Sort of like a prenup, but as an unmarried couple.

Interesting!  I'm curious, what triggers the financial split in this situation, since you don't have the legal process of divorce to mark the end of the relationship?  Can either one declare the relationship over and initiate the division of assets & liabilities, or do you both have to agree?

mountainmama

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Re: Is that what a lawyer costs?!
« Reply #4 on: August 15, 2020, 08:53:05 PM »
This is one of the things I hope the lawyer will be able to help with. However, I think it's going to say something like 'in the event either partner decides they no longer want to reside in the same residence...'  I think, just as in a divorce, either partner can decide.

RetiredAt63

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Re: Is that what a lawyer costs?!
« Reply #5 on: August 15, 2020, 09:48:30 PM »
Here people who are going to live together sign a cohabitation agreement.  It lays out all the settlement issues.  They are popular with older people who have been married before, and have children and assets. 

secondcor521

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Re: Is that what a lawyer costs?!
« Reply #6 on: August 16, 2020, 12:11:09 AM »
Uh, yes, I think you are very naive, but not about the price of lawyers.

That's a bit more than my divorce attorney cost me per hour, and that was 14 years ago, and I live in a medium- to low-cost city, so the $300 an hour probably is in the ballpark if you live in a bigger city like Seattle or Denver or Houston or Boston.

But if you are an unmarried couple, then any sort of contract between the two of you won't have any effect on any joint debts.  Those will be governed by the contracts you signed with the respective lenders.  Since they are not a party to any agreement between you and your partner, they are not bound by its terms.  Most likely, any creditor has set it up so that each of you individually are responsible for the entire debt, and in case of default they will go after both of you, again regardless of any agreement the two of you have.

How joint assets would be handled probably would depend on how they are titled and what the rules are in the state in which you live, but again, I seriously doubt that any agreement you have would have any sort of legal force with regards to assets.  In other words, if you jointly owned a house and one of you wanted to force a sale, you might be able to do that, but it would be based on your state law, and not on your agreement.

At best, any agreement you write up might forestall an argument later, or could be used as evidence in a court case, but if you're at that point the one of you has already sued the other, so the agreement probably didn't do any good.

And since any agreement you write up probably has no legal effect, then I don't see any reason to involve a lawyer.  If I were in your shoes, I'd find a template cohabitation agreement out on the web, then modify it however both of you see fit, then both sign it.

IANAL, JMHO, YMMV.

Malcat

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Re: Is that what a lawyer costs?!
« Reply #7 on: August 16, 2020, 04:20:42 AM »
Uh, yes, I think you are very naive, but not about the price of lawyers.

That's a bit more than my divorce attorney cost me per hour, and that was 14 years ago, and I live in a medium- to low-cost city, so the $300 an hour probably is in the ballpark if you live in a bigger city like Seattle or Denver or Houston or Boston.

But if you are an unmarried couple, then any sort of contract between the two of you won't have any effect on any joint debts.  Those will be governed by the contracts you signed with the respective lenders.  Since they are not a party to any agreement between you and your partner, they are not bound by its terms.  Most likely, any creditor has set it up so that each of you individually are responsible for the entire debt, and in case of default they will go after both of you, again regardless of any agreement the two of you have.

How joint assets would be handled probably would depend on how they are titled and what the rules are in the state in which you live, but again, I seriously doubt that any agreement you have would have any sort of legal force with regards to assets.  In other words, if you jointly owned a house and one of you wanted to force a sale, you might be able to do that, but it would be based on your state law, and not on your agreement.

At best, any agreement you write up might forestall an argument later, or could be used as evidence in a court case, but if you're at that point the one of you has already sued the other, so the agreement probably didn't do any good.

And since any agreement you write up probably has no legal effect, then I don't see any reason to involve a lawyer.  If I were in your shoes, I'd find a template cohabitation agreement out on the web, then modify it however both of you see fit, then both sign it.

IANAL, JMHO, YMMV.

IMO, this is exactly why OP should talk to a lawyer, to find out what the laws are in their jurisdiction and whether or not a cohabitation agreement can cover what they are looking for.

webguy

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Re: Is that what a lawyer costs?!
« Reply #8 on: August 16, 2020, 05:02:37 AM »
Yup, $300/hr is about right. The last lawyer I worked with was over $500/hr. A good lawyer can be invaluable though and I have found they will often work very efficiently with that time. Also, donít be afraid to ask them to estimate a total cost for wherever you need them for so you can budget accordingly. It might only take them a small amount of hours.
« Last Edit: August 16, 2020, 05:05:17 AM by webguy »

Schaefer Light

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Re: Is that what a lawyer costs?!
« Reply #9 on: August 16, 2020, 06:30:13 AM »
My lawyer was $300 an hour.  This was in an area that was just about average COL for the USA.

birdie55

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Re: Is that what a lawyer costs?!
« Reply #10 on: August 16, 2020, 08:13:41 AM »
My parent's estate lawyer charged $450 an hour in 2018.  That is in the Bay Area of California. 

Sibley

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Re: Is that what a lawyer costs?!
« Reply #11 on: August 16, 2020, 10:12:13 AM »
I'm confused. You're not married to this person, but you have joint assets and joint debts. Wouldn't it just be easier to get married? You can structure your relationship however you want, but the legal side of marriage might be the easiest (and cheapest) option for you. Just get a prenup before you get married. You wouldn't even need to tell anyone, aside from whatever witnesses you'd need.

TLDR: Keep it simple. Get married.

LWYRUP

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Re: Is that what a lawyer costs?!
« Reply #12 on: August 16, 2020, 10:25:01 AM »
In my area (high cost), I'd be really concerned about any lawyer charging less than $200.  Have they been disbarred?  Are they just out of school (and probably don't know anything)?  Are they just going to slap together a form and not really review your file?

I have thought about this because I work for government now but may start my own firm.  I don't think I would bill less than $250, even straight out of the gate (but then I do have experience).  Below that, the time would probably be better spent either learning a substantive practice area or marketing / networking.

The fundamental issue is that being a lawyer takes of a lot of training and can be quite hard / unpleasant.  For solos, you also have income variability where you can't find work for a while then it all comes in floods, and a lot of unbillable time and overhead that you need to account for.  Below a certain billable hour, it would simply be more logical to quit and take up some legal-adjacent white collar office job (compliance, accounting, human resources, etc.).   

So there are a lot indebted new grads that struggle to find work enough to pay off their loans, but also at the same time it's hard to get an experienced lawyer below a certain price.  Your best bet is to find a lawyer with a crack paralegal who will do most of the simple drafting under the lawyer's close supervision, and so with the paralegal getting billed at $150 and the lawyer at $300, your blended rate might be more like $200-$250. 

If you can do a basic amount of homework, and come prepared (with knowledge of all the facts, necessary paperwork) and you are hiring a lawyer with a lot of experience that has a system down, it can be an efficient process.  But it won't be cheap.  It's a bespoke service, like hiring an architect or paying your healthcare out of pocket. 

KBecks

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Re: Is that what a lawyer costs?!
« Reply #13 on: August 16, 2020, 10:28:51 AM »
My partner and I have decided to sign an agreement to set up how we would split our assets and debts if we ever decided to part ways. Sort of like a prenup, but as an unmarried couple. After searching the internet and not really getting my questions answered, I decided I reach out to a lawyer to get some advice. I got a rec for one and called her. She told me her hourly rate was $300!! I thought it would be less than $200/hour. Am I right to be shocked? Or am I just naive?

I hired a lawyer for the first time this year and the cost is $300/hour.  I've been pleaased with the service, but the costs add up fast.

mountainmama

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Re: Is that what a lawyer costs?!
« Reply #14 on: August 18, 2020, 02:40:52 PM »
I'm confused. You're not married to this person, but you have joint assets and joint debts. Wouldn't it just be easier to get married? You can structure your relationship however you want, but the legal side of marriage might be the easiest (and cheapest) option for you. Just get a prenup before you get married. You wouldn't even need to tell anyone, aside from whatever witnesses you'd need.

TLDR: Keep it simple. Get married.

We've talked extensively about this. While it would be simpler to just get married, we both have some big hangups about marriage...

mountainmama

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Re: Is that what a lawyer costs?!
« Reply #15 on: August 18, 2020, 02:45:45 PM »
In my area (high cost), I'd be really concerned about any lawyer charging less than $200.  Have they been disbarred?  Are they just out of school (and probably don't know anything)?  Are they just going to slap together a form and not really review your file?

I have thought about this because I work for government now but may start my own firm.  I don't think I would bill less than $250, even straight out of the gate (but then I do have experience).  Below that, the time would probably be better spent either learning a substantive practice area or marketing / networking.

The fundamental issue is that being a lawyer takes of a lot of training and can be quite hard / unpleasant.  For solos, you also have income variability where you can't find work for a while then it all comes in floods, and a lot of unbillable time and overhead that you need to account for.  Below a certain billable hour, it would simply be more logical to quit and take up some legal-adjacent white collar office job (compliance, accounting, human resources, etc.).   

So there are a lot indebted new grads that struggle to find work enough to pay off their loans, but also at the same time it's hard to get an experienced lawyer below a certain price.  Your best bet is to find a lawyer with a crack paralegal who will do most of the simple drafting under the lawyer's close supervision, and so with the paralegal getting billed at $150 and the lawyer at $300, your blended rate might be more like $200-$250. 

If you can do a basic amount of homework, and come prepared (with knowledge of all the facts, necessary paperwork) and you are hiring a lawyer with a lot of experience that has a system down, it can be an efficient process.  But it won't be cheap.  It's a bespoke service, like hiring an architect or paying your healthcare out of pocket.

Thanks! All the replies make me feel better about it. I already wrote out what we think it should say, so she also seemed to think it could be a pretty small amount of time.

Sibley

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Re: Is that what a lawyer costs?!
« Reply #16 on: August 18, 2020, 03:07:25 PM »
I'm confused. You're not married to this person, but you have joint assets and joint debts. Wouldn't it just be easier to get married? You can structure your relationship however you want, but the legal side of marriage might be the easiest (and cheapest) option for you. Just get a prenup before you get married. You wouldn't even need to tell anyone, aside from whatever witnesses you'd need.

TLDR: Keep it simple. Get married.

We've talked extensively about this. While it would be simpler to just get married, we both have some big hangups about marriage...

Ok. Then don't forget about all the other things that marriage does. Inheritance, protections against being forced to testify against the other, health care decisions, taxes, etc. Property is just the first thing. For good or ill, marriage as an institution is baked into our legal system. It wouldn't surprise me if it were actually impossible to duplicate it fully.

clarkfan1979

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Re: Is that what a lawyer costs?!
« Reply #17 on: August 18, 2020, 03:33:27 PM »
If you are your partner are worth $10,000, a lawyer that charges $300/hr. might be too expensive. If you are worth 10 million, $300/hr. is a bargain.

MikePolo4

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Re: Is that what a lawyer costs?!
« Reply #18 on: August 19, 2020, 07:39:24 AM »
Look for a "Separation Agreement" template online then decide whether you need a lawyer. Though, sometimes the couple hundred dollars is worth the peace of mind. You might be able to skip the lawyer fees altogether.

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Fuzz

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Re: Is that what a lawyer costs?!
« Reply #19 on: August 19, 2020, 10:39:48 AM »
Yes - that's what a lawyer costs. For a flat fee for something like that, I would guesstimate 3-10K, depending on your situation. But go ahead and ask for a budget if you're going hourly.

CNM

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Re: Is that what a lawyer costs?!
« Reply #20 on: August 19, 2020, 10:45:25 AM »
 It can be location dependent/COL dependent but $300/hr sounds in the range.

MissPeach

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Re: Is that what a lawyer costs?!
« Reply #21 on: August 20, 2020, 11:24:37 AM »
That's what my family law certified layer in a HCOL charged for my divorce. The ones without a specific certification are often a little less.

For what it's worth I think you might also want to consider working with an estate lawyer and draw up a trust so you can use that and your wills to leave things to eachother, medical power of attorneys, etc. This is what I would do if I wanted a non-marriage type of marriage and something I am considering if I ever get there with someone.

I plan to do that because in my state all my assets would go to a spouse but I have a child from my first marriage and would want to make sure they're protected. it will also allow you to pass assets while not married without having to go through probate.

Imma

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Re: Is that what a lawyer costs?!
« Reply #22 on: August 20, 2020, 02:52:03 PM »
I'm confused. You're not married to this person, but you have joint assets and joint debts. Wouldn't it just be easier to get married? You can structure your relationship however you want, but the legal side of marriage might be the easiest (and cheapest) option for you. Just get a prenup before you get married. You wouldn't even need to tell anyone, aside from whatever witnesses you'd need.

TLDR: Keep it simple. Get married.

We've talked extensively about this. While it would be simpler to just get married, we both have some big hangups about marriage...

Ok. Then don't forget about all the other things that marriage does. Inheritance, protections against being forced to testify against the other, health care decisions, taxes, etc. Property is just the first thing. For good or ill, marriage as an institution is baked into our legal system. It wouldn't surprise me if it were actually impossible to duplicate it fully.

These are all things that people generally put in a cohabitation agreement. I don't know about your jurisdiction, but where I live a cohabitation agreement is basically the same as marriage, except when you get married the government sets the terms and when you cohabit, you set the terms. Of course when you get married you can get a pre-nup but usually there are still limits to that. For example, in my jurisdiction you can't exclude the right to alimony in a pre-nup. You can put it in but it's not valid. We both believe that in our situation, alimony would be morally wrong so we wrote that down in our cohabitation agreement and this way it is valid. Actually, in my jurisdiction it would be constitutionally impossible for the government to give one set of rights to people who choose one lifestyle (marriage) instead of another (cohabitation) in the same way they can't give one set of rights to Christians and another set of rights to Jews.

mountainmama

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Re: Is that what a lawyer costs?!
« Reply #23 on: August 20, 2020, 03:26:26 PM »
Interesting. We are also going to sign our wills at the same time we sign this agreement, so I don't need to include inheritance in it. However, I hadn't considered giving each other rights about healthcare decisions in it. I'm definitely going to add this to our list of questions.

Imma

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Re: Is that what a lawyer costs?!
« Reply #24 on: August 20, 2020, 03:45:31 PM »
Interesting. We are also going to sign our wills at the same time we sign this agreement, so I don't need to include inheritance in it. However, I hadn't considered giving each other rights about healthcare decisions in it. I'm definitely going to add this to our list of questions.

We have included property, bank accounts, pensions, medical rights/power of attorney, what triggers the end of the relationship (end of cohabitation in our case except for medical reasons) and shared/personal posessions. The latter was important to me because my mother lost all her personal belongings in a divorce. I don't think my partner is that childish (and a truly evil person would just set the house on fire) but mentally it's important to me that certain heirlooms will always remain mine.