I’m going to discuss with you a little bit about some unique qualities of a retaining an attorney in a family law case, and that is that when you hire an attorney in a family law matter, the amount that you give the attorney is classified as a retainer. That’s the amount that you pay up front to the lawyer in order to engage the lawyer’s services.
The money that you pay the attorney upfront is not paid to the attorney until it is earned, which means that the lawyer has to show you billing, and the time that the lawyer has spent on your case, the time that the paralegals have spent on your case, before the lawyer is allowed to transfer any portion of the retainer from a special account to the lawyer so that the lawyer gets paid.
Money that the lawyer receives in a retainer goes to what they call a COLTAF, that’s C-O-L-T-A-F, account, which is an interest-bearing account that the state regulates for all retainers. Clients who have paid a retainer want to make sure that they review their billing statements when it goes out, and that they are satisfied that the billing statements from the attorney are correct. Billing statements from an attorney that reflect what the attorney was paid as a retainer vary from firm to firm, and based upon the experience of the lawyer.
One thing you should be looking at when you’re looking at your bills is does it accurately reflect the time that the lawyers spent, that the paralegal spent, and does it also reflect the court costs that I paid from the retainer? As an example, one of the court costs that you’ll see when a new divorce action, or new custody action, is filed is that the state of Colorado will charge the lawyer for filing about $240. If it’s a post decree issue, like a motion to modify custody or parenting, there’ll be a court cost of $105. So, attorney’s fees are very strictly regulated. Attorneys are not permitted to take retainers without doing legal work or any portion of that. When a case is finished, when your case is done, even if there is one penny in the trust account, you’re entitled to get that back from the lawyer when the case is concluded.