But now the market is changing. It is no longer attractive to a client to pay for lawyer's time without some reliable information about just how long it's all going to take. Lawyers have complained that fixed fees are unworkable and unfair – we don't know how 'the other side' will behave, will it be a big argument or will they see sense and agree quickly? We don't know if the court will co-operate with us – will the judge insist on extra hearings or additional evidence? The client isn't really keen on a fixed fee either – what happens when we reach the limit – will the lawyer lose interest? Will I get the office junior when I want an experienced adviser?

The solution: 'unbundling' or more plainly, paying for what you want, when you want it - not what the lawyer wants to give you. People's circumstances are different. It sounds obvious but plainly, some are cash rich and time poor and some the other way around. One size doesn't fit all. Working together with your lawyer to achieve your goals means choosing what you can do yourself and what you can't. Much of the costs of divorce are reflected in the regular correspondence by letter or telephone between legal representatives and the third parties or waiting at court in now often crowded lists. Paying an expert for a straightforward transactional part of the process doesn't make financial sense when you could do it yourself. Far better to take an hours' advice at the outset and come back for more when the issues are refined; this means you can get the added value from a trusted adviser who's seen it all before. You can come back whenever you need to and however many times is necessary.

From a financial point of view, 'unbundling' is good for cash flow and controlling your costs. Effectively it's a pay-as-you-go arrangement with less risk of runaway costs and an unhappy professional arrangement with the lawyer you want on your side.

Alternative solutions to going to court are becoming more popular: mediation, collaborative working, round table meetings, and arbitration. In these contexts you might chose to take advice before and after or even to have your lawyer with you on the day. You might want your lawyer to draft the agreement when you reach it.

There will always be some who chose to keep their lawyer close, to shadow all situations and to consult on every step. That brings peace of mind and constant reassurance, but it comes at a price. Choosing to operate this way should be a conscious decision not an expectation at the outset in every case or something we drift into and end up with a bill we didn't expect. Take charge of your charges!

Elizabeth Wyatt is a partner and divorce, family and matrimonial law specialist at Anthony Collins Solicitors.

For more information

For further information, please call Liz on 0121 212 7417 or email elizabeth.wyatt@anthonycollins.com.

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