We sometimes receive calls from potential clients asking us to provide independent legal advice for a separation agreement and tell us that they would like this service for $500. Unfortunately, we have to tell them that is simply not possible and in this blog post, I will explain why.
Providing independent legal advice is not and should not be a rubber stamp. It is an obligation that lawyers take seriously as separation agreements are binding contracts that can have far reaching financial consequences. To provide advice, the lawyer needs to have a complete understanding of the circumstances leading to preparation of the agreement, the financial circumstances of both parties, including incomes, assets, liabilities, and future prospects, understand the goals of the family, including parenting schedules and children’s expenses. Not to mention the challenge of spousal support and whether or not there is entitlement and if so, what the appropriate amount of support should be. Should it be payable on a monthly basis and if so, for how long? As a lump sum? Both? Is it appropriate to include provisions that both parties are giving up any right to claim spousal support?
Gaining insight into the family requires a lengthy initial meeting, usually approximately one and a half hours long. Then the first lawyer in our office will embark on an initial review of the draft agreement with the financial information to make sure that the terms match with our client’s expectations of what should be in the agreement. An advice letter to the client is prepared at the same time seeking clarification and providing detailed advice about the agreement itself. Almost always, there will need to be revisions to ensure that our client’s interests are protected. This means that there will be some negotiation with the other party’s lawyer.
Once the first lawyer has done the initial comprehensive review, the second lawyer in our office reviews everything again to ensure that nothing is missed. Our clients value having two lawyers review every major piece of work that leaves our office and this is especially the case with the drafting or reviewing of agreements.
After the terms of the agreement have been finalized, one of our lawyers will meet with the client to review, explain and sign the Agreement. This meeting is usually between one and two hours. All in all, even for a “simple review” of an agreement requiring minimal revisions, our office invests between 15 and 20 hours of our lawyers’ time, not to mention our assistants’ time. We hope this helps explain why we simply cannot offer this service for $500.