About 75% of the individuals I meet with for the first time cannot afford to hire an attorney full time. Most of these folks are not poverty level and do not qualify for volunteer legal aid. Similarly, they do not have a few thousand dollars in a shoebox to hand over for their legal representation.
Like most of my colleagues, I shied away from being hired piecemeal. Why? Well, it simply doesn’t come naturally to an attorney to let go of something once it is started. Also from an ethical standpoint, attorneys hesitate to do partial work and trust that something will not go terribly wrong down the road once the case is out of the attorney’s hands.
Well, from a practical perspective, things can go terribly wrong down the road whether or not an attorney is controlling every aspect of the case presentation. On the flip side, things can also go marvelously well whether or not an attorney is controlling every aspect of the case presentation.
The vast majority of folks who come to see me simply want some help – any help. I accept on one or two pro bono cases a year on an ongoing basis but I wish I could offer more free services. As a result, quite a few of my initial consultations end with hopeless feelings on both sides. I cannot help the person without watching my practice go into deep crimson red and the potential client has already called ten other attorneys and gotten the same answer – no dice without a few thousand up front.
Meanwhile, our court system is hopelessly clogged with a high number of self-represented individuals in the same boat. Court staff is strained beyond capacity trying to direct folks in the right direction without improperly giving legal advice. The judges and commissioners are frustrated by their own inability to help because a judicial officer cannot give legal advice or otherwise “assist” to a self-represented individual.
And so, without further ado, I’ve kicked my ego aside and I am happy to offer unbundled services starting now.
There are a number of great resources online for researching limited-scope and unbundled services. Here are a few of my favorites:
Not all who wander are lost.
I offer flat “fixed” rate plans for uncontested marital dissolutions as an economical alternative to paying an hourly rate. If the case qualifies, the flat rate plan fixes the legal fees at a predetermined rate. The advantage to the client is predictability and cost control. The advantage to me is reduced administration time and frankly, gives me a break from acrimonious litigation. The flat rate plans are broken down by legal fees and costs here.
The Uncontested Case: The truly uncontested case is one where both spouses agree to everything – nothing needs to be negotiated or litigated.
Representation of One Party Only: I will not meet with both spouses. I only represent one spouse and one spouse only. The spouse that I do not represent is always advised to seek his/her own attorney to review the paperwork and provide legal advice. If the other spouse chooses not to seek independent legal advice, then I require him/her to sign a waiver to that effect.
Hiring an Attorney versus a Paralegal: There are a number of paralegal services who provide a typing service to put together your documents. I have nothing against paralegals making a living – I was once a paralegal myself! However, paralegals cannot give legal advice and they cannot give an individual an opinion one way or the other as to whether or not the decisions being made are the right decisions. An attorney who practices family law has extensive knowledge of the statutes pertinent to family law as well as the case law interpreting those statues.
If the Case Becomes Contested: If either party files a motion, if the other spouse refuses to sign the documents, or if either spouse backs out of their agreement prior to signing the documents, then the case is contested. At that point the client may take the option of re-hiring me on an hourly basis. If the client does not wish to hire me on an hourly basis, then I will withdraw from the case.
If the Client Terminates My Services Prior to Completing the Work: The flat fee payment constituting the “legal fees” immediately becomes my property and is not placed in my trust account. However, the fact that the flat fee is paid in advance does not affect the client’s right to terminate my services. In the event my services are terminated before the agreed upon services are completed, the client may or may not have the right to a refund to a portion of the fee.
The flat rate plans are live on the website.
The flat rate plans are limited to uncontested dissolutions and child support modifications.
All other cases are billed on an hourly basis. There are a couple of differences between flat rate plans and cases that are billed on an hourly basis:
- Flat rate plans are locked in for legal services. As long as the services fall within the scope of the flat rate plan (the scope is given to the client in detail), the client will not be charged further for legal services.
- The amount paid for legal services under a flat rate plan is not deposited into my trust account. The legal services are considered my property immediately, although if my services are terminated before the conclusion of a case, a portion may or may not be considered refundable.
- I generally charge a higher advance deposit for cases that are charged on anhourly basis because there is a very low level of predictability for how much work will be required.
- Advance deposits for hourly cases are deposited into my trust account and paid to me as services are rendered. Any unearned portion of the advance deposit is refundable.
I recently formulated three flat fee rate plans:
- Uncontested Dissolution (No Children).
- Uncontested Dissolution (Children).
- Child Support Modification.
It took some number-crunching to come up with a price structure for services for each of the plans. I wanted the flat rate plan to be a benefit to the client while at the same time be financially feasible for my practice.
The flat rate service plans are in effect now. I will be updating my website with more detailed information about the flat rate service plans in the new future.