Legal Consulting – Affordable Legal Advice
Retaining an attorney is the traditional way of dealing with a legal problem but can be very expensive. However, many legal problems get a lot worse without legal advice. An in-between option that is affordable is consulting with an attorney based on your needs and budget.
I started doing legal consulting after watching unrepresented people lose their hearings while I waited for my hearing to begin. I noted that most of these people did not seem to understand what the key issues and law were for their hearing, what they need to prove to win, how to present their evidence and arguments, or even the strengths and weaknesses of their cases. It was frustrating, since their opportunity to be fairly heard was ruined because they lacked the information to communicate their case effectively. However, I could appreciate the fact that most of those people were probably not in the financial position to retain their own attorney. Legal consulting is a means of getting legal advice on an affordable pay as you go basis, by time spent, rather than coming up with a flat fee or an expensive retainer. So as an example, it is possible to come in for a one-time consult, pay for an hour of attorney time and come away with information and advice specific to your case. Likewise, it’s possible to set up a series of meetings depending on your finances and the complexity of your case.
As is true with any type of legal service, there are positives and negatives to legal consulting. Among the positive benefits is that you can be very precise as to what information you need and how much of it you need based on your finances and your comfort level with the legal problem. Some people stay for an hour and lay out the facts and the problem, get information on how the law works, what the options are and what to do or avoid doing and handle their case on their own from that point forward. Others schedule an appointment to follow-up with additional information and questions or to get coaching on how to handle a hearing or mediation. Some might consult throughout a divorce, for example, as they encounter new questions, different types of hearings, settlement negotiations, etc. Clients who have consulted with me say that the strongest positives are that they are relieved to finally understand how the legal process works and have a better idea how to proceed. They also have reported their hearings, etc., have gone well because they understood the strengths and weaknesses in their case and did a better job communicating with people like judges. Finally, they often feel calmer and more able to deal with the problem once they understand how to proceed.
The negatives are that I can’t go to the hearing or mediation because I am not counsel of record. I can help draft pleadings if I disclose to the Court that I have been retained for the limited purpose of drafting documents, but I can’t send correspondence. I don’t have the ability to negotiate or even talk with various people involved because I am not counsel of record. I don’t have ability to obtain information for the client in a formal way (although I can do legal research and informal research). And, of course, I am limited to the information provided to me by the client; which means if there are missing pieces the advice will be wrong or not as useful. The strongest negatives clients report is that they would far rather have me with them when they go to a hearing and they don’t feel as able to word the things the way I do. I often feel frustration that I can’t be there in case there are new developments that the client won’t know how to handle or if they get stressed and need reinforcement.
At this point, I recommend legal consulting in cases where the case is not overly complex or for those circumstances where there would otherwise be no legal assistance. I don’t view it as ideal but know that the results are better when people understand their case and are aware of the rules so that they can present their cases properly.
If you are considering legal consulting, there are a few points to determine:
1) How high are the stakes? (for example, if you might lose $200,000 or custody of your children, then you should make serious efforts to get a loan for representation);
2) Do you want help drafting documents? (If so, you must retain the attorney for the limited purpose of drafting documents;
3) do you have all the information and documents that you are likely to need? (If not, it would be better to schedule once you have everything so as to maximize your time with the attorney);
4) Do you want to pay as you go or have a small retainer so that you can consult on an ongoing basis by email or phone.
If you are currently experiencing a legal problem, schedule a consult with an attorney sooner rather than later. There are more options at the beginning of a legal problem, which might resolve the controversy. If you wait, some of those options will be gone and errors might have been made that can’t be fixed. When you are scheduling, be sure to check that attorney’s policy to see if they do a free consult or what their hourly rate is and then budget a time that fits with what you can afford. Also, check to determine if they do legal consulting since some do but most expect you to retain them. This is critical if you might want to have an ongoing consulting relationship with an attorney.