Frequently Asked Questions

Paralegals work directly for attorneys pursuant to Bus. & Prof. Code §6450. A registered Legal Document Assistant (LDA) may assist you in an uncomplicated dissolution or legal separation. However, you will likely have legal questions and neither a paralegal or LDA may provide legal advice.
Many non-lawyers will have you do your own research on legal questions and the answer you may need is not on the web. Therefore, it may be to your advantage having an attorney who knows and understands the law and can answer your legal questions as they arise during your proceeding.

Non-attorneys set their own prices. This is where the consumer should have an abundance of caution. You may think you paid a flat fee for all your divorce forms but come to realize that flat fee may be what it takes to get started. I have seen non-attorneys charge as high as $400 per hour and costing the client several thousand dollars to prepare their legal paperwork.

The consumer should be mindful when working with a non-attorney when it comes to document preparation. The LDA knows when the case requires an attorney to step in and will likely refer their client to a licensed attorney because they are required to be bonded to maintain their registration.

Many non-lawyers will have you do your own research on legal questions and the answer you may need is not on the web. Therefore, it may be to your advantage having an attorney who knows and understands the law and can answer your legal questions as they arise during your proceeding.

When I was a paralegal/LDA this was a very frequently asked question. In fact, it was also common to hear. . .“paralegals do all the lawyer’s work.” Well yes and no. Lawyers supervise their paralegals work, and the paralegal does not make the appearances in court. Remember, the paralegal fees can be billed to the client. So that may bring the costs down, but paralegal billing by attorneys still run at a rate of $100. Just because a paralegal is paid $10-$25 an hour, doesn’t mean the consumer can pay the firm’s paralegal the same wages.

Another common comment I heard was the billing by attorneys and the disappointed client when they say, “my lawyer didn’t do anything for xxx thousand dollars.” Some clients come in thinking they have an ‘easy divorce,’ but someone’s easy may not translate to simple in the family law profession. Nobody wants to come to a law firm and hire an attorney. They are there because they HAVE to be. When an attorney tells you it will cost $3,500.00 to get your ‘easy divorce’ started, this is what happens.

The $3,500.00 represents approximately 10 hours of attorney work at $350.00 an hour. In that 10 hours of time, let’s parse out what usually happens. The filing fee and court runner fee is taken out of the retainer ($435-$450 plus $75.00 or so, it can go up if its a rush, and possibly ex parte costs and Request for Order, mediation, and court reporter). You may easily see $750.00 in fees that are non lawyer fees.

The attorney, after the initial consultation, will send out a letter to the spouse that they are representing you in the divorce action. The forms have to also be prepared. If it involves declarations, or Memorandum of Points and Authorities then it requires more time. I can see an overall average of 4 hours (so thats roughly $1,400.00 plus the filing and court fees, process server fees, etc.) Its now at $2,150.00 of the $3,500.00 retainer.

This leaves you 4 hours left on your attorney meter. That will be eaten away by phone calls, emails, and text messages, if you keep calling your attorney asking what is going on, and telling them ex-spouse is doing this and that. It will put you in the negative by the time you finish your first hearing.

As a paralegal who had direct contact with the client I heard every little detail, each of those details may or may not be helpful to your case. Sometimes its all part of the stress of going through a divorce. It would be prudent to have someone in your life to vent to, but not to your attorney because that makes her an expensive girlfriend.

If the initial fees are used up, the attorney will request you to replenish. You may have a temporary order for support, but you are far from finished with your divorce.

The next biggest complaint I heard as a paralegal was, “my attorney didn’t take my calls.” Your attorney did take the calls in the beginning when you had provided her with something she could bill on. When that is depleted, the attorney would like to be paid for her time. So clearly, its not as easy or simple when the ex spouse is causing the drama and running up the attorney fees. It stopped being an easy divorce when you were not in 100% agreement with everything you initially wanted.

You will pay for the onset of the action, but it really is up to you and your spouse to keep your costs down and come to a mutual agreement so you are only hiring the lawyer to advise you and to prepare the legal documents and not having to appear at multiple hearings.