This is an update to a 07/02/2011 blog post “Compare An Internet Site With An Attorney’s Service To A Client.” In that post I discussed how a national online document provider company differed from the professional legal services provided to a client by an attorney. Essentially, these companies complete the basic forms required by most domestic relations courts based upon information the customer provides to them, then forwards those forms to the customer to use in his domestic relations court case.
The field of online legal services has a newer player entering the market. These are national companies which contract with local attorneys to provide legal services in your local domestic relations court, claiming to offer quality legal services for less.
Don't be fooled. You could end up paying much more than if you hired that same attorney by contracting with him/her directly. Essentially, you are simply adding an unnecessary middleman to the equation, thus increasing your costs. This is how the system works:
The online legal services company does contract with a local attorney, usually for a fixed price for a specified number of services to be supplied to “their customer.” Anything not covered in those “specified services” are subject to additional charges by the local attorney. Since most family law attorneys require a written contract with their clients, you now have TWO contracts for essentially the same legal problem. The terms and fees will probably be different for those extra services.
The online legal services company owes no fiduciary duty to you to act in your best interests, like the attorney does. It has no lawyer/client relationship with its “customer.” It is not licensed to practice law anywhere. In reality, it is little more than a referral service acting on commission; the commission being the difference it pays the local attorney and what you pay to the online legal services company.
What is insidious with this arrangement is that usually the “specified services” provided by the online legal services company either do not adequately cover what is required by your legal problem, thus entailing further charges under the local attorney's contract with you for those extra services, or the local attorney is not adequately compensated by the company on your behalf. When the latter happens, your local attorney may not represent you with the zeal you feel necessary, since the local attorney may only get reimbursed for a third of what those services actually cost!
This arrangement often results in two outcomes:
The client must do his/her homework! Google search for a local attorney. Visit their websites and read what they offer, their profiles, blogs, their reviews by former clients. Then arrange for a consultation with the prospects you have picked to see if you and they are a “good fit.”
The Wild West of Divorce Marketing
For tips on Choosing A Lawyer That Is Right For You, visit this Page.
I have begun seeing an alarming number of pro se divorces in family court. With the economy in a down spin, it does not surprise me. Still, I can’t help but think of the old saying; “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.” Judging from my experience with clients, the majority have little real exposure to our judicial system. It is usually limited to the People’s Court, Boston Legal and other smatterings of fictional legal dramas. They supplement their knowledge with internet chat rooms, web links to information from States other than Ohio, and the bad advice from John, their auto mechanic, who once had a divorce 8 years ago in Texas or Kentucky. Add to this that because clients are inextricably emotionally involved in the circumstances of their family, when combined with all the complexities and nuances that every single legal matter involves, the answer becomes obvious.
For these clients, taking the risk to go to court alone can have harrowing consequences to their wallet and their legal rights under Ohio law. When one agrees to a divorce without any legal knowledge of the procedures/processes involved and how they may affect him/her individually, both now and in the future, he/she may be compared to playing roulette at the local casino. This is the best case scenario. The worst scenario is where he/she basically gets a pat on the back, a few items of furniture and an old Ford, while the spouse keeps the Benz. In an effort to avoid paying for an attorney, one may give up the right to thousands of dollars in deserved alimony as well as one’s interest in the house and the Benz. In Ohio, because he/she has not asked for alimony at the time of the divorce, the matter is considered closed. In legal terms, tough cookies.
Another problem I see with pro se litigants is that they appear to be clogging up the court’s docket. As they attempt to learn legal procedure, they prolong normally quick matters and cause added expense for everyone. An ornery pro se plaintiff/defendant often tries to make needless frivolous motions, make crazy demands, and constantly ask for continuances.
Save yourself the emotional trauma, delay, injurious legal mistakes, and added expense. Get armed with the knowledge to protect your legal interests in advance. Protect yourself, seek a legal consultation and representation by an attorney of your choice. This website offers a wealth of information to get you started in the right direction.
Visit my Page, CHOOSING THE RIGHT LAWYER.
I recently received an email from a prospective client seeking information regarding a post-divorce decree modification procedure. Ultimately the prospect didn't schedule for a consultation, & instead I learned that he was pursuing the services of an online document content provider, NationalFamilyLaw.com, which is one of several such services entering the family law arena recently.
What I find tragic is that this prospect probably has no idea exactly what he is getting for his money, & even less of what he is missing by foregoing a consultation with an attorney.
Don't misunderstand, I'm not necessarily opposed to online content providers if they provide services in a professional & reputable manner. I'm currently the Ohio counsel for a national legal services law firm with a similar marketing approach, although not in the area of family law. Their economy of scale can be beneficial to the consumer in some areas.
The online provider in this instance was similarly priced for the services I provide to my clients. However, the similarity ends there. The online consumer does not receive anything approaching the quality of services an attorney can provide to his client.
HOW DOES AN ONLINE DOCUMENT PROVIDER DIFFER FROM AN ATTORNEY'S SERVICES TO HIS CLIENT?
First, NationalFamilyLaw.com does not represent the consumer in court & does not claim to. Their services are limited to document preparation of the basic pleadings a typical consumer encounters in a post-decree modification proceeding. This document preparation is supervised by attorneys, although the site does not specify whether this counsel is licensed to practice law in Ohio, or is even familiar with each county's particular local rules of court and procedure. The online consumer will represent himself, Pro Se in legal terminology, and appear alone in court. He does not have the benefit of an attorney to present his case & particular circumstances to the court in support of the request he is asking the court to consider.
Second, the online consumer will never see an attorney or speak with one. Nor will he even see or speak to a paralegal trained in family law. All his communication with the online provider will be filtered through a "Family Legal Advocate." Thus, whatever information he does provide to the online provider will only reach their legal staff second hand at best. This necessarily prohibits the in depth questioning and probing "give & take" characteristic of a legal consultation. This restricts the overall presentation of the consumer's facts, his position vis-a-vis his former spouse, and his/her position as presented to the court.
Third, the online consumer still must pay for his court costs, that is the expenses the court charges to open and maintain his case file. He must serve his documents once he receives them from the online provider and prosecute his own case as best he can with no assistance from the online provider or the court. He acts as his own attorney. An attorney not only drafts documents tailored to his individual client's case and legal issues, but also frames them in relation to an overall strategy, beginning from the first consultation to trial before the court, if that is required. He anticipates the unknown and plans for the unexpected. As Abe Lincoln said, "A man who represents himself has a fool for a client."
Fourth, the price charged for this online document preparation of the basic legal documents, when compared to Monte K. Snyder, Attorney's individual representation in court of my client, is the same as my current legal fee!
Who do you believe is getting the most bang for his buck?
The consumer of legal services must do his homework. He must gather as much information as possible from both the internet and in person to person consultations with the attorney prospects of his choice, then apply a discerning mind to the information he has gathered. Which of his prospects does he believe best suit his perceived needs: professional, personal, communications, and financial?
Even though there is a wealth of information available through the miracle of technology today, don't forego a legal consultation, for there still is no substitute.
For further information: The Wild West of Divorce Marketing.
Don't rush into hiring an attorney and don't assume that expensive is better, or low-cost is ineffective. Get to know your chosen attorney and be careful who you let control your case. Perhaps the most important thing to consider in choosing an attorney is how you feel about your relationship to him/her. Does he listen to your thoughts, questions, ideas and concerns? Does he involve you actively in your case? Do your phone calls get returned promptly? Are you kept informed of your case's progress and receive billing statements for fees and costs regularly? If the shoe doesn't fit well, the journey will be difficult.
The "right" lawyer is one who is professional, educates their client, empowers the client to make good choices about the law and keeps fees and expenses under control. Hiring a lawyer is a big decision. Circumstances are often stressful, and the consequences of making the wrong decision can be dire.
HERE ARE SOME STEPS YOU CAN TAKE TO ENSURE THAT YOU FIND THE RIGHT ONE:
1. Everyone is different, and you need a lawyer who will mesh well with your personality and expectations about how the case will be handled. Attorneys are humans too (imagine!) and we have distinct personalities and approaches to the law. You should find an attorney that suits your needs and your personality too as much as possible. This is a stranger you are inviting into the inner most parts of your life. They will know more about you than many people in your life. It wouldn't hurt to get along with them and maintain a friendly professional relationship.
2. Initial consultations and fees
3. Ask questions
What's your litigation style? Will you tell me if I'm being unreasonable? Will you communicate with me regularly? Will I be talking to you or your assistant? Will you help me to conserve money? These are all reasonable questions to ask. If you get done describing an awful abusive situation and your attorney seems to just sit there and not care, you might want to search some more.
4. Don't be afraid to mention the "F" word.
Fees are how an attorney makes his living. Setting fees is largely subjective and varies from attorney to attorney.
An attorney that gives true value through his or her advice is what you should focus on. As President Abraham Lincoln said, "an attorney's time & advice; are his stock & trade."
Your fee agreement should only be made following an initial consultation with you to ascertain your needs and determine the best course of action to attain those needs. Many documents can be prepared effectively using the flat fee method.
If your need is of a complex nature or may involve either other people, businesses, or government agencies, effective control over future events surrounding your need is not totally within your control. In these situations, an hourly fee is common.
Legal Fee Estimates are based upon my experience of a typical case similar to yours. The actual final cost may be more or less. Also, the more active you are in the case assisting with some of the work, [such as locating information, addresses, contacts, documents, etc.], lessens the time your attorney spends on such tasks, and your legal costs. Your legal fees should become part of your budget. A "low ball" fee for a case such as this is unrealistic and a disservice to you, since your planning and expectations will consequently be unrealistic as well.