Sunday, July 6, 2014

DIY Lawyerin' - will you really save money?

"Do-it-Yourself" Lawyerin' can be a dangerous thing if not done right. I know many people think of attorneys as affluent but I am simply a small business owner and a new one at that. I understand clients are strapped and want to save money. But I could never recommend a person go it alone. I don't mind counseling clients in a way to help them do some of the work themselves but there is definitely a risk. Furthermore, some cases should not be done without the direct assistance of counsel.

One of the most common things I find clients can do and can do well is dividing the property during a divorce. When parties are open about their finances and can negotiate with each other, they usually can do it rather well. What I consider the right way to do this is for the couple to discuss the property split. Once they think they know what they want, one of them should contact an attorney to get help drafting the agreement.

After the document is written, the drafting party passes it to the other spouse. KEY: The second spouse needs to read it carefully and then take it to their attorney to ensure it says what they think and want it to say. Also, the attorney may find issues not address at all.

This process places both parties on equal footing. At this point, adults are free to give up or hold out for what they want. This is a way to cut legal fees while protecting yourself. I've had at least one client who filed the divorce himself, used me to draft the agreement, and finished all the other filings on his own. He saved a great deal of money on all the work he completed himself.

Unfortunately, I've had several people come into my office over the last year who allowed the other party draft the property agreement and never sought an attorney review. They ended up giving up assets they didn't mean to or address issues that caused them grief months after the divorce was finalized. They swapped a few hundred dollars for an attorney review for several thousands of dollars of litigation with a questionable probability of success. What is that saying? "A penny wise and pound foolish."

I have a client that wanted to participate in the administration of her mother estate to save money on fees. We worked out a plan and she was able to do some work to cut costs and I'm earning a decent fee. It wasn't the most time efficient method but it seems the client is happy.

I've also had clients come in with of documents (forms) that some just needed a little tweaking while others needed to start from scratch.  In these cases, savings obviously varied.

Other ways you can help conserve money when dealing with an attorney are by preparing your questions and building a list of questions to ask at one time either over the telephone or during the next meeting; listen to the answers before going on to your next question; answer your attorneys' questions openly (remember we are not judging you, we are analyzing your case), and by being prepared to hear an unbiased opinion and evaluation of your case. These things can help you use your time with your attorney more efficiently resulting in lower attorneys' fees.

Of course there are cases people should have legal assistance handling such as serious criminal charges, actively contested and litigation cases, and anything people don't completely understand. Because the stakes are so high in cases like this, people really need to consider hiring a lawyer.

While there are things you can do on your own and ways to decrease costs, I would never suggest doing so without any legal counsel on any matters. Without legal counsel, you run a greater risk of missing issues; losing rights and creating a situation that will cost even more in legal fees. And clearly there are some matters a party should not do themselves at all.

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