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Family Law / collecting

Hello, all. Entering 2L this Fall in the Philadelphia are fm147707/09/18
Every lawyer in every field has to write down a little. The nycatt07/09/18
Everyone wants to fight, but no one wants to pay. Retainers psusurf07/09/18
It's pretty bad in divorce law. Nobody wants to pay. You're fettywap07/09/18
I should knock on wood, but I've yet to be burned. I figure thirdtierlaw07/09/18
Get The Money Up Front is the mantra. Typically 3-5k retaine onehell07/09/18
Remember this You to the judge: "Your Honor, I need to re jmoney07/10/18
Listen to JMoney. This is key. Mr. Green is a very importa bittersweet07/11/18
And what makes it even harder is that the judge has to allow cranky07/11/18
fm1477 (Jul 9, 2018 - 7:47 am)

Hello, all.

Entering 2L this Fall in the Philadelphia area. I've recently become very intrigued by Family Law, specifically, divorce. However, I've heard that it's pretty common that lawyers aren't paid for all of the hours billed to their clients. Obviously money can be tight during a divorce, but how much of an issue is this?

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nycatt (Jul 9, 2018 - 9:30 am)

Every lawyer in every field has to write down a little. The more experience you have and the more clients you have, the more confident you are to get rid of clients immediately when they don't pay. As psusurf said, I guess family law is a bit different but pretty much on point, as you would definitely fire someone if they have no assets anywhere. Also, I wouldn't worry so much about getting paid from clients - that is a partner problem. I would worry about finding a job where you get paid a living a wage and surviving the first few years of practice, which are brutal.

Once you have been practicing for a few years, you can go up the chain to a better firm (either more money or better environment, depending what you want) and start worrying about partner problems like getting paid by clients.

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psusurf (Jul 9, 2018 - 9:19 am)

Everyone wants to fight, but no one wants to pay. Retainers, replenish retainers, or get out of the case. It’s tough at first to have those conversations, but once you realize you are working for free, the conversation becomes much easier. I practice family law exclusively and the rule of thumb around all of us is that you can expect to write off/down about 10-20% of your time. You always end up getting caught in cases where there is money in a house or somewhere else, and the only way to get paid is to stay in the case and write the bill down a little.

Personally, I have about a 10% burn rate. I bill out about 500k-600k a year, so there is still plenty of money to be made.

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fettywap (Jul 9, 2018 - 10:23 am)

It's pretty bad in divorce law. Nobody wants to pay. You're taking money from her children. He did her wrong and now you're making her pay for it. Blah blah blah. I had one once where the woman fired me on the eve of trial and hired a male attorney after I had done all the work. All he did was appear at trial for her. He ended up suing her for over $4,000, which makes me wonder if she paid him anything. It's a constant battle to get clients to pay you on these cases.

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thirdtierlaw (Jul 9, 2018 - 12:07 pm)

I should knock on wood, but I've yet to be burned. I figure out how much time I suspect a full trial would take and ask for that as a retainer.

If you always assume the retainer is all you're ever going to get from the client, you'll do alright. If they can't afford the retainer I say, "I'm sorry to hear that, I truly wish you the best of luck in this matter, I know how difficult it can be." You'd be pleasantly surprised how often they call you the next day with the funds or a credit card number.

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onehell (Jul 9, 2018 - 4:02 pm)

Get The Money Up Front is the mantra. Typically 3-5k retainers in my area. The only "payment plan" you offer is that you take credit cards. You bill till the retainer is gone and then if it isn't promptly replenished, you file a motion to withdraw.

You have to be careful with this, too. Remember that over 95% of divorces have at least one pro per party, and the courts hate this. They don't want to let you out and will make you stay in the case for free if they can find a way to justify it, the most common reason being that it's too close to trial or whatever. So if it looks like it isn't going to settle and the retainer isn't going to be replenished, don't let it get too far along.

It is a challenge. There are many studies showing that most people live hand-to-mouth and could not come up with an unbudgeted couple grand if their life depended on it. So most folks I know turn away a lot more people than they take on, which is especially hard to do if you're just starting out and don't have many clients. But it's better to not do the work and not get paid than to do the work and not get paid. And for those who can come up with the down payment, absolutely you're going to write off some hours so that the retainer will stretch long enough that the client can see some kind of result, like a temporary order, and hopefully won't file a bar complaint when you withdraw.

But you have to be absolutely unbending on the retainers because that initial down payment is all you are ever going to see in most cases involving "regular" middle class and lower middle class people. And unless it settles fast, that retainer is never going to be anywhere near enough to get all the way to final decree of dissolution.

It's an ugly practice area, and you'll get a lot of sob stories that will really tug on your heart strings. You're also at high risk for getting a lot of bar complaints when people don't get the result they want, particularly if they have revenge as an objective. But you are running a business, not a charity, and people who keep that in mind do seem to find that there's money to be made. It's ugly and stressful but not a particularly difficult practice area, and you can pick it up quickly for uncomplicated matters where there aren't tons of assets to divide. Average Joes tend to be in debt up to their eyeballs anyway so they don't really have much to fight about other than child custody and support, house and cars with no equity and a 401k with like 2 grand in it.

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jmoney (Jul 10, 2018 - 12:54 am)

Remember this

You to the judge: "Your Honor, I need to request a continuance because Mr. Green has yet to show up"

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bittersweet (Jul 11, 2018 - 5:56 pm)

Listen to JMoney. This is key. Mr. Green is a very important witness and you (literally) cannot afford to build a case without him. Many judges have been in your shoes. They know how important Mr. Green is.

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cranky (Jul 11, 2018 - 8:17 pm)

And what makes it even harder is that the judge has to allow you to withdraw. You can't just show up the day of a hearing and tell the judge you're out of the case b/c the cheapo client didn't pay his bill. The clients typically have no clue about how withdrawals need to be filed and approved long before a hearing is coming up, and they think that they can jerk around the attorneys and drag out the "payment is due NOW" deal. I've lost some money here and there over the years from being too nice and not getting enough retainers, but every case makes you more cynical and cognizant of the fact you're running a business and deserve to be paid well for all the misery of family law, not some bleeding heart social service agency.

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