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Tips for Managing Documents to Save Money on Attorney’s Fees

April 16, 2010

Two perennial topics for most people going through a divorce or dealing with a family law issue are how to best manage the documents that are inevitably required and how to cut down on their attorney's fees. For many reasons, we always seem to deal with a lot of documents in any case, although some cases are naturally worse than others.

The answer for some clients is to “Do It Yourself”. This won't work for everyone, but for people who have time, understanding and some organizational ability, they can save time for their attorney and save money for themselves. Here are some ways this can work:

1. Background information — In most divorces, the parties will need to produce a lot of financial records. Why not start early? When you are getting ready to meet with your prospective attorney, gather and organize whatever financial records you can find. Such things as tax returns, bank statements, retirement account statements, deeds, loan agreements and records, credit card statements, etc. are the types of records that can be important in your case. Instead of tossing them into a handy grocery sack or black plastic trash bag, spend a little time separating the records by source and put them in some appropriate order, such as chronological. You can get bonus points from your attorney if you put tabs or labels on the documents or put them in a notebook or set of folders.

2. Discovery — This is the single most paper-intensive step in the divorce or litigation process. In most non-Collaborative cases, each side sends the other side long lists of questions and requests for documents. It can take a long time to gather up the paperwork and an even longer time to review and organize it. Your attorney will tell you what is needed and you will have the initial responsibility of gathering and organizing the documents. The more complete and organized the records are, the more you will benefit. You probably have a good idea of what your records are or should be, so it makes sense for you to assume the responsibility to get the information together in an understandable and organized fashion.

3. Messages — Occasionally, you may have letters that are relevant and important to your case. More often, there will be emails, texts, tweets, wall postings, direct messages or other forms of written communications. These can really be voluminous. The initial problem with these is getting a paper copy or a good electronic copy. Then, the messages need to be organized so that your attorney knows what you consider to be the importance of each message. It's also good to have date and time information on each message.

As you gather information for the purposes discussed above, please keep in mind the following “Don'ts”.

  • Don't write on the documents. Some people like to write their response or their side of an issue on the document. That can cause problems for your lawyer in authenticating the document and avoiding objections in court (your comments are “hearsay”).

  • Don't change anything on the document or record. The paper must be a true and correct copy of something. Don't change the content or the appearance of the document. Let your attorney worry about the appearance and whether the information is helpful or not.

  • Don't give partial documents. Most of the time, your attorney will need the complete document to make it admissible in court.

Bonus Tip: You may be able to save money and time by making extra copies before you deliver documents to your attorney. However, you may waste some money if you copy everything before your attorney has confirmed that the paperwork is useful. It's best to coordinate copying plans with your attorney's staff before you get started.