One of the things people complain about the most – and rightfully so – is the cost of going to court and litigation. Lawyers cost money, court costs are expensive, and mediation fees seem to just add to the expense.
When I tell people what I charge per hour, I get a lot of comments about how people wish they got paid that much per hour. And the truth is – I do, too. Out of that hourly fee, I have to pay for the building, the desk, my secretary, the lights, the phone, the webserver, the paper, employer’s taxes, and all the many hours I work during a week doing things that can’t be billed for. I am mindful of the expense, however, and I try not to do anything I don’t think is necessary so that my clients don’t have to pay for it. Think of it this way – a lawyer who is being paid (by you) hourly has nothing but incentive to make up things to do in order to bill them so that more money comes in. If your lawyer isn’t doing something, odds are good it is because it doesn’t actually need to be done.
In Walton County, filing fees in Magistrate and Superior Court are $205.00. This means that just the act of saying “I want to sue someone” and making it real puts you $205.00 in the hole. Add another $50.00 for each person who needs to be served by the Sheriff. This is why you need to consider how much you are asking for before you decide whether it is worth it to go to Court.
Often, an attorney will suggest mediation. In Walton and Newton Counties, all civil cases are court ordered into mediation, so you have no choice anyway. This is because contested hearings often don’t benefit anyone, except maybe the lawyers, who get to charge for many hours of court preparation time and the time in court. Mediation works in the vast majority of cases, and this saves the dockets from being cluttered and saves taxpayer money in terms of personnel and other types of overhead.
Mediators charge money, it is true, but generally the fee is less than a ‘regular’ attorney’s fee, and is split between the parties. It may seem like you are adding just another person to pay to the mix, but the truth is that in 99 times out of 100 (this is not a scientific number, but I think almost all lawyers will agree with me) it saves money in the long run. Not having to pay for trial preparation and a trial is a savings. Your average trial costs anywhere from $5,000.00 to $10,000.00 – or more – in addition to your initial retainer. Eight hours of mediation is closer to the neighborhood of $3,000.00, most of which is your own attorney’s fees, which you have probably pre-paid. Being able to end the matter on your own terms in relatively short order is priceless.
You have to do a cost-benefit analysis. Sometimes (I’d say most of the time) laying out a little money on the front end saves you money in the long run. You really can’t lose with mediation. It is only rarely that nothing comes out of it – even if you don’t have a full agreement, you may be able to come to a partial agreement and/or narrow down the issues which not only gives you some resolution but significantly cuts your costs at trial. Why not take the opportunity to work out everything there is to be worked out – on your own terms – than take more time, and more money, just to have the conclusion imposed from on high by someone who doesn’t have the time or, frankly, the inclination, to get to know you on a personal level and truly understand what is important to you.
More than once I’ve been accused of trying to sell someone out by pushing for a settlement, in mediation or otherwise. However, think about this – lawyers have a personal incentive to keep litigation going forever. The longer it goes on, the more they can bill you, and the more money they make. If just about any lawyer tells you settling is a good idea, we’re doing it to our own personal detriment.
It takes money to make money, the saying goes, and sometimes it takes money up front in the litigation process in order to make money (or win whatever victory it is you are trying to achieve) in the long run.
This article was written by a lawyer, but should not be considered legal advice in any way, shape, or form. It is written for general (and generally vague) informational purposes only. In order to properly evaluate your case, a lawyer must examine all the facts and circumstances that are particular and personal to your situation. I have not done that here