At the Law Office of Linda C. Garrett , a California-based family law, consumer and bankruptcy virtual online law practice, I receive numerous calls and inquiries from desperate individuals seeking family-law legal representation, yet having little to no funds to pay an attorney. To illustrate my point, I received two such calls in just the last 24 hours alone! As is always the case, my heart breaks for these folks are in desperate need of legal assistance and because they have no-where else to turn. What other options are available if an individual, in need of legal assistance, cannot afford to hire an attorney to represent their legal interests? An option is legal coaching, a little known type of family-law legal representation.
In an ideal world, everyone would be able to hire an attorney to represent their legal interests, but for one reason or another, they cannot afford to do so. The reasons are common sense, therefore, I will not enumerate them in this post.
Let’s examine the last three calls I received just this week from people in desperate need of legal assistance, but without funds to hire an attorney to represent them:
1. Madelyn, who because she could not afford to hire an attorney, decided to submit her judgment-related paperwork to the court for final processing on her own. Not surprised, Madelyn learned that the paperwork she submitted was rejected by the court clerk with an explanation that made no sense to her. Madelyn made several calls to several attorneys, receiving quotes for amounts that she could not afford to pay. Madelyn is a military servicewoman expecting to be sent to Iraq in the next few months; thus, this legal matter is time-sensitive for her.
2. Jeremy, married to his wife for about one year, learned to his shock and surprise, that his wife changed the locks on their residence and locked Jeremy and Jeremy’s two minor children (from another relationship) out of the family home. To make matters worse, Jeremy was a full-time parent to his children and his wife’s children (from another relationship). Jeremy calls me, admitting his has no funds to hire an attorney to represent him, yet seeking legal assistance in connection with requesting temporary spousal support and an order to return to his residence.
3. Michael, a military serviceman, is stationed in the east coast. The other day he learned that without his knowledge or consent, his wife moved to northern California and took their minor daughter with her. His wife refuses to allow him to see the children or to agree to joint legal custody or visitation. Michael is desperate to see his daughter. Wife files her Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (FL-100) in California and has set a hearing date regarding custody. Michael is unable to leave to California to attend the custody hearing and has no idea about the legal system. Michael seeks legal assistance but has no funds to hire an attorney to represent him for his divorce and custody matter.
In reality, I receive much more than three calls per week from people in similar situations–needing legal representation, but no funds to pay a retainer for legal representation.
Simply put, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of situations where legal coaching and/or limited-scope representation would be useful.
So, what is legal coaching and how will it help you?
First, up until a few years ago, the only legal services a family attorney provided were full-scope legal representation. This is the type of legal representation that everyone is familiar with—you hire an attorney to do all the work, such as, prepare all the paperwork, handle all court-related matters and paperwork, provide legal counsel, appear in court on your behalf and so on. With the blessings of the courts and the State Bar of California, attorneys are encouraged to provide “unbundled legal services.” Why? Because unbundled legal services give a self-represented individual better (if not equal) access to the legal system and helps lesson the court’s burden in dealing with unprepared litigants and incomplete files. Legal coaching is a form of unbundled legal services. It’s called “unbundled” because the work is divided by the attorney and the client, instead of handled by only the attorney. In other words, the attorney and the client split the legal work in such a way that works best for the client when it’s not possible to hire the attorney to resolve all the legal issues of their case.
First, let’s identify all possible legal issues in connection with a divorce:
1. Dissolution of the marriage
2. Division of assets and debts (to include community and separate property)
3. Division of retirement accounts
4. Physical custody
5. Legal custody
8. Guideline child support
9 Spousal support—temporary and permanent
10. Date of separation (yes, sometimes this becomes a legal issue).
In an ideal setting, the couple would work together to reach a global settlement on all issues; however, in the real world, this is rarely the case. So, what is a middle-class wage earner facing a divorce matter to do when many issues are heavily contested. (Contested means that the parties strongly disagree and are fighting about the issue). Common contested issues are custody, visitation and support. Know this, however, that any of the items listed above can be heavily contested, except dissolving the marriage. Why? Because California is a no-fault state.
Below are some examples of common situations where “unbundling” is ideal in a divorce situation:
1. Limited-scope legal representation. Example: Divorce: client represents themselves in connection with dissolving their marriage and dividing the assets and debts of the marriage; while the attorney handles the more complicated issues of custody, visitation and child support. The attorney becomes “limited scope counsel” in connection with the custody, visitation and child support issues.
2. Legal Coaching: Legal coaching is just that—coaching. As a legal coach, I answer any and all questions a client has in connection with their legal matter? The types of questions I am asked are unlimited. Here are some typical questions regarding, for example, support issues: “Am I entitled to spousal support,” “What do I do if my spouse is hiding money or receives cash only from his business?” “What do I do if my spouse refuses to work and is asking me to him spousal support, even though, if he were to work, he would make than I would?” “What forms do I need to fill out?”, “How to I file the documents with the court?” “What does ‘legal service’ mean and can I serve the documents on my spouse?”, “What do if my spouse refuses to provide her pay stubs to me to prepare my case?” “I am so nervous, what should I expect at the hearing?” As a legal coach, I not only answer questions, but I also, if asked, review paperwork drafted by my clients (or, if asked, give suggestions before they start drafting their paperwork). Also, I am able to provide coaching tips to prepare the client for their “day in court”—such as providing court strategies, legal arguments to present to the judge, tips on ways to deal with overbearing counsel for the other side.” The list is endless.
3. Document preparation: There are companies who, for a nominal fee, will prepare legal documents on behalf of consumers. Unless they state they are prepared by an attorney, they are most likely prepared by paralegals or document companies who use the information you provide them to fill out your legal forms and basic forms that are designed as fill-in-the-blank forms. I can almost guarantee if the company charges $299, then it is not prepared or reviewed by an attorney. From my experience, the forms are not difficult to fill out as they appear to be straight-forward. For example, on page one of FL-100 (Petition for Dissolution of Marriage), the party is asked to list their separate property. So, let’s say you provide the document preparation company with a list of assets that you believe is your separate property, to include money from your savings account. Then, on your spouse’s response he lists his 401(k) as his separate property, which is valued at about $100,000. Not knowing better, you see no problem with your respective lists. I use this example, because, just the other day, a nice woman in her mid-20s stated to me that she was looking for an attorney to confirm hers and her spouse’s marital settlement that reflected she would keep her antique jewelry “as handed down to me by my ancestors” and “he’ll keep his 401(k).” She was shocked to learn that the husband could never touch her “ancestral jewelry” and that she was entitled to 50% of his 401(k). The benefits of an attorney preparing or working with a client to prepare documents is that the client is assured that the documents are not only prepared (to ensure they will be accepted and not rejected by the court), but that they are also, legally accurate and protect the client’s legal interests. Also, document-preparation factories do not prepare complicated legal forms, such as declarations, and by their very nature, unable to assist with incorporating documented evidence in to various legal pleadings.
Limited-scope representation, legal coaching and document preparation are each forms of unbundled legal services. If you or someone you know could benefit from unbundled legal services, “share” this post with them.
To learn more about me, my services, and my other practice areas (to which there are many) and/or to contact me, link to the following pages:
Legal Disclaimer: Everything on this blog pertains to California law only and is written by an attorney licensed to practice only in the State of California. Further, information provided on this blog post or this website is to be used for general informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice in any way shape or form. The underlying purpose of this blog post is to provide the reader with general information to use in talking with an attorney and/or as a general guide when conducting their own research on their particular legal matter. Finally, keep in mind that if you are not a California resident and/or your matter is not based in California, the laws may differ in your state. In such cases, it is recommended that you seek legal assistance and/or review information that relates to the laws of your state.
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