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.