Sunday, June 5, 2011

Pricing Legal Services

Pricing Legal Services
Have you ever hesitated to call a lawyer because you thought it would be too expensive? Often the perceived cost of hiring an attorney acts as a barrier to prevent people from fully protecting all their legal rights. In the long run people that don't hire an attorney may end up costing themselves more money - only an attorney can help properly protect your rights and finances. What many don't realize is there are several tips that can help you get the best price for a quality lawyer.

1. Don't be afraid to call around and ask
Not all attorneys like giving price estimates over the phone. This is because they don't want to give you a price only later to find out that your legal action is a great deal more complicated than you described. When you call an attorney always try to be as open as possible in describing your situation. If they don't bring it up cost during your phone consultation, just ask. If they're not willing the give you a price, you should be able to ask the attorney what is their hourly billing rate. This will give you a way to compare different attorneys.

2. Don't be afraid to go with a newer attorney
Attorney pricing can be influenced by a variety of factors. Level of experience is directly related to price. A newer attorney, just a few years out of law school will likely charge less, than the veteran of 20 years. People often wonder, "If I go with the new attorney, will they be successful?" If you are looking at an uncontested divorce or basic will, you may be pleasantly surprised by the competency and the pricing you get from a newer attorney. These attorneys will likely work hard on your behalf as they are trying to prove themselves to their colleagues and their clients. Obviously, if you're facing a murder charge or messy divorce you may want a more experienced attorney, but on more routine matters a newer attorney is likely to give you the greatest bang for your buck.

3. Call the solo attorney
As you shop around for an attorney, you should understand that big law firms charge big bucks. These big firms have big bills to pay. A huge ornately decorated office building with receptionists and paralegals cost a great deal of money. Going with a solo attorney can save you a great deal of money - they simply don't have the overhead of the big firms and can afford to charge lower rates. Picking out a solo attorney is fairly simple. As your browsing attorney listings look for those that have just one name - although those sometimes can also be big firms under a recognized name. Not only does the solo attorney have lower overhead they may provide you with a more personal experience and are likely just as experienced as those attorneys at the big law firms. 

4. Ask about payment plans
Only a handful of lawyers offer payment plans, but it never hurts to ask. Typically in a payment plan, you make smaller payments over the course of a month or two. When your total is paid, the attorney will swing into action. With payment plans, your payments may be nonrefundable and the attorney usually will not start on your case until payment is made in full. Make sure to pay attention to the terms of the  contract.

5. If it is a personal injury, auto accident, malpractice claim you shouldn't have to pay much up front
In these sort of cases, an attorney will often take their fee from the settlement and not require any payment upfront. Generally this fee is 33 1/3% of the total settlement. However, if you are shopping around for a newer or solo attorney, you may be asked to pay a small amount to cover things like filing fees, records fee and expert affidavits. This may be particularly true if your case will have a small settlement.

6. Ask about limited representation agreements for less complicated legal issues
A limited representation agreement serves to limit what the attorney is expected to do. By narrowing the focus of the representation, the attorney can charge a reduced fee. These types of agreements are most effective in matters like an uncontested divorce or those situations in which a letter from an attorney on your behalf might quickly resolve a matter. 

7. Geography can matter
If an attorney practices in a downtown area of a major city, you can expect to pay higher fees than someone who practices out in the suburbs. Most attorneys have a geographic area that they are willing to travel to for clients. An attorney out in the suburbs or across town maybe able to give you a better deal.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

How you can afford a lawyer… payment plans for every budget.

Paying for a lawyer can be a major expense. Often a person will delay or simply not hire a lawyer because of this expense. This delay or lack of counsel can have severe negative consequences as many matters are time sensitive.

If you are hoping to stop harassing bill collectors, a foreclosure or garnishment through a Chapter 7 or 13 bankruptcy, you need to contact our office today to get a payment plan set up. Waiting to take action can add unnecessary expense and negatively affect your financial situation.

The law office of Antonio B. Mari strives to make legal representation affordable to all citizens. To achieve this goal, our office is one of the few in North Georgia to offer a payment plan option.

How the payment plan works

At the conclusion of your free consultation, our office will provide you with a good faith estimate of what your potential legal matter will cost. You do not need to have any money at the initial meeting. Unlike many law firms, we will not pressure you to sign a retainer agreement that day. The good faith estimate represents what we expect your legal matter will cost and barring any change in your circumstances, our good faith estimates are valid for 7 days.

If you choose to move forward with representation, you will be required to put down a non-refundable initial deposit and sign a retainer agreement. This deposit is generally 15% to 25% of the good faith estimate provided to you. Once you provide your deposit, our office will work within your budget requirements to develop a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly payment plan.

An important limitation to the payment plan option is that no paperwork will be filed until payment in full is received. Therefore, if you have a shortly pending court date, or an emergency action – you will not be eligible for the payment plan option.

The payment plan option is frequently used by those seeking an uncontested divorce or bankruptcy. Contact our office today to schedule your free consultation and obtain a good faith estimate of the cost of your legal matter.

Friday, July 23, 2010

When is an uncontested divorce the right solution?

When is an uncontested divorce the right solution?

An uncontested divorce is a divorce in which the couple generally agrees on most key issues (especially any property division) and the couple desires to avoid courtroom litigation. Georgia allows a divorce without attempting to asses fault on one party or the other. This “no-fault” basis can open the door to civil and speedy negotiations.

The main advantage to an uncontested divorce is cost. As long as the parties can continue to communicate with each other, cost can generally be assessed on a flat fee basis. However, if communication becomes strained and the parties are forced to turn to litigation, the cost can quickly escalate. Open and straightforward communication is the key to a low cost and amicable uncontested divorce. Time can also be an advantage to an uncontested divorce. A contested divorce can take many months even years. An uncontested divorce without children can be completed in just over a month.

Before speaking with an attorney it is a good idea is to make a list of possessions and have a civil discussion as to who should get what. If this process can be completed, an uncontested divorce may be a practical solution. However, keep in mind that an uncontested divorce does not mean there will be no disagreements. The parties may disagree, but in the end they should be willing to negotiate and eventually resolve all issues.

While an uncontested divorce can often have a cooperative feel, the parties should understand that a lawyer cannot represent both of them and they should be wary if a lawyer promises to do that. In an uncontested divorce, a lawyer is ethically bound to only represent one client. The other spouse must proceed without a lawyer or hire their own attorney.

Occasionally, individuals will attempt to save money and file for an uncontested divorce with forms purchased online. This is generally not advisable and you may inadvertently give away some of your key rights or cause the matter to take longer than it should to resolve. Additionally, an uncontested divorce is more affordable than you might think.

Before considering and uncontested divorce ask yourself the following questions:

1. Are there open lines of communication between you and you soon-to-be ex?

2. Are your financial affairs straightforward?

3. Are you able to sit down and divide up personal property?

4. If a house is involved, are you able to decide who take possession of the property?

5. If children are involved, are you able to decide issues like custody and financial support?

If you answered yes to all those questions, you may be a good candidate for an uncontested divorce. Contact our local office to create an affordable solution that will best protect your rights.

Antonio B. Mari, Esq.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Georgia Divorce Issues: When can a child decide?

A question that comes up frequently in a divorce with children is, “when can a child decide which parent they want to live with?” Georgia law states that when a child reaches the age of 14 they have the right to decide which parent they would like to live with. However this decision is not binding to a judge. If the judge feels that the parent chosen would not be in the best interest of the child, the judge will essentially overrule the child’s wishes.

After a divorce a child over 14 can, through the parent seeking custody, ask the court to modify a custody order giving custody to the requesting parent. Under the right circumstances this change in selection may be sufficient to meet the statutory requirements.

A child age 11 to 13 can make their opinion known to the court, but the judge is guided by the child’s desires but also the educational needs of the child. The judge in these situations has complete discretion in making their decision and may or may not give weight to the child’s specific wishes. A judge’s is guided in these matters by the legal standard known as “the best interest of the child”.

As to a post-divorce change in custody, an 11 to 13 year old change in parent selection will not meet the statutory requirements to change custody.

Georgia statutes do not mention the any rights to children younger than 11. Generally speaking a child under the age of 11 will not have his wishes given any weight by the court.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

What would happen to your pets if you could no longer take care of them?

Welcome news has arrived for Georgia pet owners. As of July 2010, Georgia has joined the ranks of the many states to adopt “pet trusts”. Until now, Georgia residents had little recourse when it came to planning issues involving their pets and had to rely on the probate process and the good will of others. Pet owners should update existing wills or taking the time to create an estate plan as the new law offers a significant advantage.

The concerned owner now has several options to consider when taking care of their four legged (or even feathered) family members. The traditional route is to gift the pet to a trusted friend. Often this gift includes some language as to how the pet is to be taken care of and sets aside a small sum of money to help pay the costs of the pet. A second option is to leave the pet to an organization that will find the pet a new home. Both of these options have a serious disadvantage – they require the will to go through the probate process. This process can take weeks, maybe months – during that time your pets need immediate help and there is no guarantee that they will get it! Unlike your other loved ones, your pets can not take care of themselves during the probate process.

The pet trust helps correct this problem and offers additional advantages. Trusts pass outside of the probate process and become valid at the specified event included in the trust documents – generally your death or incapacity. With a pet trust, your loved ones can immediately be given to a specified person of your choosing. Other advantages include the ability to leave specific and legally enforceable instructions as to how you would like your pet to be treated and a secured source of funding that must be spent for the pet's benefit.

Part of the purpose of creating a will and associated estate planning documents is to take care of your family and make any transition easier for them. For many, myself included, our pets are part of our family and as such you should make them part of your estate plan. Pet trusts offer a secure alternative to those of us with four legged family members. Please give serious consideration to this new option as generally the inclusion of a simple pet trust would not dramatically increase the cost of your estate planning services.

Feel free to contact me with questions or comments!
Antonio Mari, Esq.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Property division in a Georgia Divorce – What is equitable division?

There are two major legal principals used to divide property in Georgia. The first is alimony, the second is equitable division.

Before continuing, anyone contemplating or served with divorce papers should contact a lawyer. As you are about to read, property division in Georgia can get complicated and the best way to protect your rights is to contact an attorney right away.

Equitable division is a common feature in most Georgia divorces. The guiding principal in equitable division is fairness – not equality. Sometimes an equitable division does come out to be roughly equal and other times it can send more money to one spouse over the other. The specific mechanics as to who gets how much involve a variety of factors and can vary from case to case. However there are some guidelines to consider.

The only property subject to equitable division is property that is considered marital property by the court. Thus the label “martial property” or “separate property” can be fairly significant. Marital property might generally be described as property acquired by either party during the course of the marriage. While separate property is property that was acquired before the marriage. Both of these concepts are subject to numerous limitations and it is always best to consult a lawyer with your specific situation.

Common examples of things a court may consider marital property:
Wages or salary earned during the marriage
Money held in a retirement account funded during the marriage
Money held in a joint or separate checking or savings account funded during the marriage
A home purchased during the marriage
A car purchased during the marriage
Pets purchased during the marriage
Credit Card debts accumulated during the marriage
Gifts between spouses during the marriage
Gifts to the marital couple during the marriage

The bottom line: if it was acquired during the course of the marriage, it might be considered martial property. It is a mistake to think that the name on the account or title matters – IT DOES NOT! Wages earned by one spouse and placed in a bank account that is held separately from the other spouse will likely be considered marital property. A home titled and mortgaged to only one spouse, if purchased during the course of the marriage, will likely be subject to equitable distribution.

Common examples of things a court may consider separate property:
An inheritance acquired during or before the marriage, awarded to one specific spouse
Personal property owned by the spouse before the marriage: jewelry, computers, cloths
Degrees or licenses earned during or before the marriage

A common situation is that one spouse will have purchased a home (or anything else really) before the marriage and made payments on the mortgage before the marriage. Then during the marriage that spouse will continue to pay on the mortgage. In a divorce the home is now going to be considered both marital and separate properties. The court will determine a percentage based on the amount of the wages paid into the home and that amount will be subject to equitable distribution. This same thing could happen to any item that was purchased before the marriage but funded or paid for during the marriage. By “tracing” wages, the court can often reach property that many individuals assume will be treated as separate property.

Another situation, not as common might involve a home that one spouse brought to the marriage completely paid for. If during the course of the marriage, the non-owning spouse does work on the property that enhances the value, that increase in value might then be treated as marital property.

Once property is divided, the court then must address who gets what. Look for future postings to learn more about factors considered in setting the amount of money between the spouses.

This posting is just a primer on a few of the numerous scenarios and factors when trying to divide property in a divorce. It can get complicated and you will best be served by an attorney – don’t rely on this discussion. This is simply a discussion of legal issues and is not legal advice to any individual and should not be applied to any specific factual scenario. If you have a specific question contact me and I will be happy to answer your questions.

What will happen to your estate without a will in Georgia?

The majority of Americans still don’t have a will. Cost, time and an uncomfortable subject are often cited as reasons to avoid making a will. Despite these hurdles many don’t understand the difficult position that a lack of will can create for your loved ones.

If you are married in Georgia and you die without a will, your property will pass to your heirs through a legal principal called intestate succession. If you have no children the property will pass to your spouse. This seems simple enough, but if you have a charity or a relative that you would like to leave a gift to, intestate succession will not accomplish your goal.

If you have children and die without a will, your property will be divided equally between your children and your surviving spouse, with your surviving spouse guaranteed to receive a minimum of one-third of your estate. Many people assume that their estate will simply pass to their spouse because they are married– that is not the law in Georgia. You need a will to direct your assets and make certain that your spouse is not put into a difficult financial position.

If you have minor children, the significance of a will takes on an additional importance. If both you and your spouse pass, a will is the only legal device in which you can make your wishes known as to who should take care of your children. A judge will ultimately make that decision, but the will lets your preference be known. As a practice, judges give serious consideration to your wishes. Financially, the will can create a simple trust fund that will help provide support for your children on a timeline that you can create. These features cannot be accomplished without a will.

If you don’t have a spouse or children your property will pass to parents that survive you, if none then to your siblings and their children. A will can follow this scheme or alter it to include gifts to friends, charitable donations and even instructions for taking care of pets.

A will can quickly and confidentially be crafted to express your wishes. Additionally a will is more affordable that you might think. Please feel free to contact me with questions or to get a will started.