There are far better things in life to put your hard earned money towards than unnecessarily high legal costs.  We have had too many clients who have been up the river and back with high legal fees that have gotten them virtually nowhere but disenchanted with the legal process and family law in general.

We pride ourselves on being the problem solvers.  We want to get you from A to B, with your dignity and finances in tact wherever possible.  At the very first meeting with your lawyer, you can and should discuss with them how you can keep your legal costs down.  With our clients, we talk about the end game at the start and the different options to get there to suit their budget and their needs.

Here are 5 top tips on how to keep your legal costs down:

1. Reach agreement.. and do it early!

It’s no secret.  Protracted negotiations can be extremely costly, lead to entrenched positions and spin the parties into the already congested court system.

We will always explore with our clients avenues to reach an early settlement wherever possible and save costs.  This can take many forms, such as supporting you to negotiate yourself and make informed decisions negotiating around the kitchen table with your ex or at a mediation.  Another way is to fast track the exchange of necessary financial documents and make an early offer to settle.

You may be able to get more if you went to Court, but we encourage clients to think about the financial and emotional cost of not settling early.  Not just on you but your family as well.  It can be too easy sometimes to get stuck in old conflict patterns and dig your heels in. Our job is to give you independent advice, a trusted advisor who can step back, assess the situation frankly and guide you.

We encourage our clients to explore the benefits of an early, clean break.  If you can, get to a settlement fast. It will free you up to focus on your bright, new future.

2. Be up front with your lawyer about what you want out of the process, what’s important to you

This one is best explained with an example. Let’s say you tell your lawyer from the outset you are happy to move to a shared care arrangement for the kids with the other parent. Negotiations ensue, legal costs are expended. Then, the client starts putting up road blocks all over the place. Wanting to take issue with the ex’s care of the kids, the new partner’s involvement, what the other parent puts in the kids’ lunchbox.. all things that are not new and have long been an issue.  After  lot more legal costs and a strained co-parenting relationship with lawyers lobbing letters back and forth, the conflict is increased further with only the lawyers benefitting.  No settlement is in sight.  Court looks like the only option.

A way to avoid this increase in legal costs and tensions is to tell your lawyer up front about your concerns, your fears and what the roadblocks might be to you signing off on an early agreement and making lawyer’s fees a thing of the past.  A big part of our job as lawyers is reality testing. Stepping through with you how certain issues, if handled certain ways, can play out and how they might increase tensions unnecessarily and put you further away from your goals.

This reality testing early on allows you to choose the path that best suits your purpose.  If your lawyer isn’t signposting your matter, letting you know how you can quickly move past issues to save costs and headaches, something may be wrong.  Be upfront with your lawyer at every step.  It will save you time and money.

3. Assess your own skillset.  What stages of your matter can you do yourself, and what do you need assistance with?

Some people are comfortable in negotiating themselves.  If this is the case, we can tell you what documents to ask for, what documents to hand over.  Then we can help you formulate a strong offer and draw up the agreement.  This is the best way to keep costs down and we’ve had many happy clients tell us they have been pleased with how little the whole process has cost them.

When Court is inevitable, there are still options to keep costs down.  Not everyone is comfortable addressing a Judge in Court as a self-represented litigant.  Some people are, with a little help from their lawyer.  If Court is the only way to move your matter forward, you can save legal costs by getting your lawyer to assist you in drafting some succinct court documents that address all of the necessary legislative factors.  This will place you in better stead to run some steps of the matter yourself if you choose.

Many matters do not end in a trial. Litigants can be assisted by the preparation of expert reports in property and parenting matters, mediation and the exchange of disclosure.  Offers can be put forward at almost any time in the court process before the end of trial.  Your lawyer can help you craft a solid offer to end litigation and draft the consent orders.

4. Give timely, considered instructions

When lawyers need instructions from clients, it should be for a purpose.  To get you closer to what you want.  Sitting on giving those instructions can increase costs unnecessarily, as issues can snowball which leads to even higher fees.

A lot of issues, which would have otherwise lead to a flaring up of the matter (and costs), can be nipped in the bud with timely instructions and a well crafted response to take the heat out of the situation.  If the lawyer on the other side is litigious, the other party might be getting advice that your lack of response and action can be construed as a disengagement from the process, leaving Court the only option.  This path will likely end up costing you much more, financially and emotionally.

If you are going to be away or hitting a busy time at work, tell your lawyer so they can get on the front foot so any lack of response cannot be unreasonably misconstrued.

Think through your instructions before you give them to your lawyer, and ask whatever you need to so you can make informed decisions.  Changing your mind later can increase costs and build conflict.

5. Choose the right lawyer

It’s important that you trust your family lawyer and the advice they are giving.  If your lawyer is not giving you pragmatic advice and talking with you about how to navigate your matter with the least fees, you may want to reconsider your choice.  We often meet with people to discuss a change of strategy to finalise a matter quicker, or give a fresh perspective.

Our business is built on our reputation.  There is no greater compliment to us than our clients and former clients referring us their family members, friends, work colleagues, knowing they will be well looked after.  The family law community is relatively small.  We are not known for increasing our client’s legal spend unnecessarily or building conflict to generate fees.  Quite the opposite. Daykin Family Law has built its practice on giving pragmatic advice at every step with the client’s interest at the forefront, with options to keep costs down where possible and move to the end of the process efficiently.

Book an appointment with us today to start the conversation on how you can resolve your family law issues efficiently and cost effectively.

First published on 19 January 2017