General Description of Fees and Costs
The fees charged by the attorneys and legal assistants of Mei Nakamoto's law firm are based on an hourly rate, and are calculated by the tenth of an hour. The rate for work done by Mei Nakamoto ranges from $285 to $310 and hour, the rate for associate attorney Erin Kobayashi ranges from $185 to $210 an hour, and the rate for legal assistant work (e.g., gathering information from the client, fielding questions from the client, inputting data, preparing exhibits for hearings and trials, and organizing documents) ranges from $95 to $120 an hour. The actual rate for a client's case will depend on the complexity of the case and the nature of the work. For example, the highest rate usually is charged for cases with complex legal issues, emotionally-charged disputes that require swift and constant management, or urgent cases that require immediate attention.
Ms. Nakamoto's clients pay costs in addition to fees. Costs are expenses incurred by Ms. Nakamoto's law firm that are then passed on to the client. Costs include postage, photocopying charges, messenger fees, fees to serve someone with a summons or subpoena, the court's filing fees, and computer-assisted legal research.
How to Pay Fees and Costs
Clients pay Ms. Nakamoto's law firm for fees and costs in two ways.
First, clients pay a retainer, which is a partial down-payment for future fees and costs. Generally, the initial retainer is the first amount to be paid, and it is usually between $5,000.00 and $8,000.00. The retainer amount must be paid in full before any work is started on a client's case. All retainers are kept in a client trust account and remain the client's money until work is done for the client.
Each month during which work is done for the client, Ms. Nakamoto's law firm takes from the client trust account only the money that is earned for that month, and the remaining amount remains in the client trust account and continues to be owned by the client. Therefore, if Ms. Nakamoto's law firm completes work for a client, but an amount remains in the client trust account, it is returned to the client. At the end of the month, the client receives an invoice that: details what work was done, calculates the charges for fees and costs, adds 4.712% general excise tax on the fees, and subtracts the total from the retainer already paid. If the retainer satisfies the total amount, no payment is due that month. If the retainer amount is exhausted or almost depleted, Ms. Nakamoto will ask the client to replenish the client trust account to pay for future fees and costs.
The second way a client pays for fees and costs is by paying the amount due if the retainer is exhausted. Once the retainer is exhausted, the client will be notified and asked to pay the balance due within 15 days.
How Much Various Cases Might Cost
It is impossible to accurately predict the cost of a particular case. The more complex a particular case is, the more expensive it will be. Ms. Nakamoto's clients often pay between $5,000 and $30,000 for a divorce case, and between $5,000 to over $15,000 to resolve a dispute that arises after the divorce (e.g., changing child custody, moving the children from Hawaii).
Ms. Nakamoto may also ask clients to pay for all or part of other professionals' fees. In some cases, it is advisable to obtain the services of a child custody evaluator, a professional mediator, appraiser, and/or forensic accountant or other expert. Therefore, the total amount a client may spend on a divorce may exceed $30,000 or even $50,000.
Before retaining an divorce attorney, it is important to shop around and ask attorneys about their fees and costs. No rules or laws specify how much an attorney can charge a client. Ms. Nakamoto wants her clients to have more control over their finances. When the retainer is exhausted or almost exhausted, the client can cease payment (at which time there is a request to terminate the attorney-client relationship) or pay the next retainer amount.
A high price does not guaranty high-quality results; however, paying a very low amount usually gets a client not much more than what he or she can do without an attorney by using the forms downloaded from the Internet. A good attorney should be giving information and advice that cannot be obtained by simply researching on the Internet of asking friends and family, anticipating problems before they arise, preparing papers with sufficient specificity, and informing a client of every major step in the divorce process. Less expensive attorneys typically fail to provide these crucial services.
Why You Should Hire an Attorney
Despite the extreme expense, it is likely in your best interest to hire a knowledgeable lawyer. The laws of child custody, visitation rights, child support, alimony, allocation of debts, and the division of assets and property are complex legal issues. The attorney you choose to hire will great have a great impact on the outcome of your dispute.
A knowledgeable attorney can give you a great advantage and can serve as a buffer from the emotional turmoil that usually accompanies a divorce or break-up. Seek an attorney who not only says she or he is knowledgeable and cares about what you are going through, but shows it by providing useful information about the law, recommending practical solutions, returning your calls and e-mails within a reasonable time, and keeping you informed about your case on a timely basis. Ms. Nakamoto is committed to upholding these ideals for all of her clients.