Today on THE Amicable Divorce Expert podcast, we speak with Attorney David K. Yamamoto about creating the best attorney-client relationship, and what that means. David is highly respected among California Judges and attorneys, as well as his hundreds of happy clients. David’s approach to representation is ethical, calm, insightful, and thoughtful. Just speaking with David and listening to his tone of voice creates an environment of peace in a somewhat chaotic time.
The client is in charge whether they know it or not. The attorney needs the approval of their clients to move through the filing process. Knowledge of the law is to every spouse’s advantage so that they can be a knowing participant in the divorce filing.
Only attorneys can give legal advice. Legal advice is based on extensive knowledge of the law and years of work in a courtroom. People can call an attorney just for legal advice. Most attorneys will give about 10 minutes of time pro bono, and then charge an hourly rate for a more extensive conversation, especially if the case is complicated. There is a difference between interviewing an attorney to see if that person feels right to you for full representation, and scheduling a talk simply for legal advice. Full representation will require an initial deposit of anywhere from $5,000 - $15,000, and that’s just to start a case. Expect to provide more money in continuing retainers as the case moves forward. Once the initial retainer is used at the specified hourly rate for the attorney and his/her paralegals, additional retainers will be needed.A short meeting just to get legal rights defined is charged by the hour and typically lasts one to two hours. Some attorneys charge their standard hourly rate and other attorneys charge a little less than their standard hourly rate.
Many attorneys, after an initial consultation, decide if the client is right for them, and also determine if the client actually needs the services of an attorney rather than a paralegal licensed to file in court for what is called an “amicable divorce”. In those conversations the potential client is doing the same, deciding if the attorney’s approach, tone of voice, and demeanor is right for them. The attorney-client relationship is one built on respect and trust. Follow your gut as a potential client to determine how you feel about the conversation, what was said and how it was said.
If people don’t need an attorney, there are other options in filing for divorce. In many states, like California where Attorney Yamamoto practices, there are Legal Document Assistants (LDA), people who have paralegal degrees and an additional license as an LDA to be able to file paperwork for people in a less litigious and contentious divorce. Or, there are now many online services that exist to remotely help with the forms and agreements for simple divorces.
The range in cost for a full divorce differs from state to state. If the divorce doesn’t go to trial and is handled as an out-of-court settlement, it can be around $20,000 - $40,000 per person. Yes, this is a lot of money especially considering that a trial may not be needed. If the case goes to trial, and there are many hearings for specific reasons like spousal and child support, custody, and vocational evaluations, the price could go up to and exceed a million dollars.
If the client needs an attorney but doesn’t have the money to go the distance financially with what they have in accessible cash, this creates a very difficult situation. If there is real estate in the asset portfolio of the client, or other large financial assets like retirement plans, they can be used to pay the attorney. Sometimes, the attorney is obligated to stay with a client, and put them on a payment plan, if there is a pending trial. There is an obligation within the legal framework of the law that requires an attorney to stick with the case if leaving the case would jeopardize the client’s outcome.
The key in keeping costs down is communication. Communication between spouses is essential in getting to the settlement faster, which brings the case to an end. And keeping emotional communication with the attorney to a minimum as the attorney is only there to work on the legal aspects of the divorce, not the emotional side. Therapists are there to help deal with the emotions of the spouses.
Every client needs to have their attorney clearly explain everything that is planned for the filing. Clients needs to do their own research online so that they can ask the right questions to determine if what the attorney is suggesting is necessary. Unfortunately, there are many attorneys in family law that take advantage of the emotional fragility of their clients, and take advantage of their clients not doing their own research to be able to participate in the decisions of their attorneys. These attorneys see dollar signs with emotional, unknowledgeable clients, or see dollar signs in clients who simply want to hurt the other spouse and agree to participate in this somewhat unethical behavior.
A good attorney/client relationship is based on timely and accurate communication, trust, respect, and the mutual intention to be ethical, honest and intelligent. This goes both ways. Clients cannot ask their attorneys to do anything that is unethical, nor can attorneys respond to unethical requests other than to say, “No”. If an attorney agrees to do anything unethical for their client, know that the attorney quite often will pad their bill and perform in an unethical manner financially.
How can a client tell if their attorney is creating unnecessary work just for the attorney’s own financial gain? Clients need to do research online regarding everything the attorney suggest. The client should always ask “Why?” when next steps are suggested by their attorney other than the normal steps that are required in a divorce. There aren’t a lot of required filings in a divorce that doesn’t need witnesses and hearings. But if the case is fraught with complication, intertwined assets and debts, substance abuse, and mental health issues, this is when the case gets expensive and many filings are necessary. The client should ask why the next filing is important. Then the client should take responsibility for stopping their attorney from doing something that doesn’t feel right or doesn’t make sense to the client.
It can’t be said enough that the client is bottom line in charge of the attorney-client relationship. With this responsibility comes the need for education, focus, discipline, and communication. If after the attorney-client relationship has begun, and it’s not working out, the client should end the relationship and seek other counsel. Nip it in the bud before the bill is too high to leave the relationship. Trust your gut and do your homework. Don’t be afraid to speak up. If you are, you have the wrong attorney.
Biography of David K. Yamamoto, Esq.
David K. Yamamoto, Principal Attorney at Yamamoto Family Law, Torrance, CA, has been in practice since 1986 and remains focused on the subtleties of family law. His extensive experience and skills in this area as a counselor, litigator (over 260 divorce trials plus 23 jury trials), mediator and collaborator has allowed his firm to achieve remarkable results for his clients.
In addition to David’s success as a strong litigator, advocate and mediator, he and his associates also practice collaborative divorce and provide mediation services which are non-adversarial interventions providing viable options to traditional divorce processes. David is a member of A Better Divorce – a group comprised of attorneys and other professionals committed to helping resolve family law issues without the need for court proceedings.
David is one of those rare attorneys who is practical, sensitive to his clients’ needs, moderately priced for his years of experience and success. David will do what is necessary to properly represent his clients, but will not take their money for work that is not necessary. A jewel among gems in Los Angeles family law.
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