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  • Writer's pictureJudge Michael Donio

Ask The Judge

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How do attorneys determine their hourly rate? Is it based on education? What if you went to Harvard and someone else went to a lesser-known law school? I would imagine a New York lawyer is more expensive than one in New Mexico.

You are correct in a lot of your assumptions. There is no question that attorneys who practice in high-income, high-density areas such as New York charge a much higher hourly rate than someone probably is in New Mexico. Other than that, an hourly rate is computed by factoring in a lot of factors including your experience in the field, your success in the court room or in a particular field, where you are based as indicated above and your general reputation in the community that is usually known by word of mouth and recommendations from fellow attorneys and even former clients.

You must remember that while people in business have a lot to offer as far as equipment, manual labor, serving and preparing of food, a lawyer only has their knowledge and their time available in which to earn a living. Also remember that a lawyer must attend three years of law school and pass a very strenuous bar examination to become an attorney. Therefore, all of those things are taken into account.

However, I would say the most significant factor of an attorney’s hourly rate is what is being charged by attorneys in that area together with the particular lawyers area of expertise and success that they have had.


My husband made me suffer extreme mental cruelty and we are getting divorced. Why can’t that count against him in our divorce action?

There are two components to every divorce. The reason for the divorce which is listed by the New Jersey statutes and then the division of property known as equitable distribution. One is independent of the other. Think of it that the reason for the divorce that is listed by law gets you into the court house while the equitable distribution takes place before the final divorce is finalized and put on paper. The fact that someone is getting a divorce based on either length of a separation or physical or mental cruelty really does not play a role in determining the amount of equitable distribution.

Keep also in mind that New Jersey is not a common community property state that most people think automatically means a 50/50 division on assets. In New Jersey, it is an equitable distribution outlining many factors such as who brought what into the marriage, who is the higher earner, who has a pension perhaps that was fully vested, and things of that nature. It does not mean that it ends up 50/50. I have seen equitable distribution cases where the distribution ends up 80/20 and even more.

Therefore, that is the main reason that the fault or who caused the divorce does not enter into the ultimate distribution of marital assets.

Judge Michael Donio served as a New Jersey State Superior Court Judge for 20 years before retiring on July 31, 2015. He now operates a legal consulting and mediation firm on the White Horse Pike. Donio can be reached by calling (609) 481-2919. Send your questions for his columns to


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