3 Tips To Understanding Legal Fees In South Dakota

Inviting an attorney into your personal affairs is stressful, and trying to understand the jargon that is thrown around may add to the stress. Here are 3 tips to understanding legal fees in South Dakota. 

Tip #1 - What is a “retainer” and how is it determined?

A "retainer fee" or “retainer” is an amount of money paid before an attorney begins work. The amount is an estimate of the number of hours we think it will take our team to complete your case. Of course, this is much like attempting to summarize a book by reading its first few pages or reviewing a movie based on the previews - we do not fully know what we are in for until we are in it. Ethically, once an attorney represents you, he cannot stop representing you if it would unduly prejudice your interests. It is easier for a client to end representation at any time than it is for an attorney to do the same.

Tip #2 - What impacts how a retainer is estimated?

We estimate your retainer based on our initial consultation. We listen to you and understand the “big picture” of your legal issue, a sense of the parties, the age of the children (if any), and the general circumstances. The primary determining factors include:

  •   Are your documents and finances organized?
  •   Are there minor children?
  •   Will there be a custody fight?
  •   Will you end up in court or is this something that can be settled?
  •    Is this a new case or do you have a case already pending?
  •    Is the other party represented by an attorney?
  •    Is there a premarital agreement?
  •   Do you share assets that need to be divided?

Tip #3 - What happens after the retainer is paid and what is a "trust account"? 

An attorney is required by the American Bar Association (ABA) and Interest On Lawyer’s Trust Accounts (IOLTA) to accept your retainer and place it directly into the Client Trust Account - a special account that is separate from the attorney's Operating Account. The trust funds are not touched until it is time for you to be billed for the attorney’s time and fees. This concept is like a savings account. The retainer remains very much “your money” until it is used to pay for your attorney's time on the case. 

Our law firm invoices clients each month with an itemized breakdown of the legal services provided, fees expended on your behalf, the amount of money that was deducted from the Trust Account, and your remaining Trust Account balance.

Brooke Swier Schloss
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Family Law and Estate Planning attorney helping families across South Dakota plan and protect their loved ones