Legal fees a shame for those in need – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

Over the weekend a friend called for advice – she needed help finding a lawyer to handle a custody dispute between her and her ex-husband, and since she’s not an attorney and I am, she sought my advice. I don’t work in the family law area so I in turn asked friends who do – and I looked at Washingtonian magazine for its list of “Best Divorce Lawyers.” I was stunned to see the cost per hour that these lawyers are charging!

My friend, it so happens, was financially devastated after her divorce, spending money not only on lawyers, but on selling her house in a depressed market and getting counseling services for her kids and herself. She doesn’t have a lot of resources to spend on attorneys’ fees.

That’s really a shame for her and for the average person who needs legal services. Almost every divorce lawyer on the lists I checked is charging between $300 and $350 an hour. I have no doubt that these are very talented lawyers, but still, after a mere 15 hours of work – that’s maybe 2 or 3 days on a case – the client has racked up $5,000 worth of charges. And unlike health care, there’s no insurance for legal services, so an acrimonious dispute with one’s spouse can mean hours upon hours of legal fees.

Though I’m a member of the legal profession, I run a nonprofit and my time isn’t billed by the hour. But I must say that I’m stunned– and chagrined – that the average person seeking help with a custody or divorce proceeding in the Washington,  DC area is forced to pay these kinds of prices for legal representation. There must be a better way!