Lawyers are expensive, we can all agree on that fact. But if you were never trained as an attorney and now find yourself in need of legal assistance, the question you really need to ask yourself is can I afford to forego using an attorney? Only you know what is really at stake, and how well you think you can advocate for yourself or whether you believe you will be able to keep up with all the rules and deadlines imposed by the court process if you find yourself inside a courtroom. But when in doubt, why not ask for some help?
Most courthouses have staff attorneys or clerks that can answer basic procedural questions, and many forms are either available at the clerk’s desk or online. However, there are limits to what the court personnel can do for individuals, and they will not be appearing on your behalf in the courtroom or assisting in negotiations or litigation.
If you want advice tailored to your specific situation, how about springing the $250-500 typically charged for a one-hour consult? In that meeting, you should get an education on the law and an overview of the legal process. Sometimes, we can offer to ghost-write certain documents for a flat-fee or charge a lower retainer, which is an upfront deposit towards the work required, for cases where we will not be going to court. This limited scope representation is increasingly being used by many as an affordable alternative to full-service representation for those with limited funds.
The clients that can normally afford full legal representation earn at least $80,000 per year and have access to at least $15,000- either in savings, on a credit card or via a personal loan if they have family or friends with this ability. This is why at least 50% of families with domestic cases in Maryland do not have attorneys of record. But maybe they are getting some help behind the scenes? I certainly hope so given how much is at stake, including significant property rights, support obligations, and custody of their kids.
During the summer, when kids are out of school, a lot of parents come to the unfortunate realization that they need to part ways. For those that do find themselves facing that unhappy scenario, I would urge them to consider getting some initial legal advice before making any major moves. Get a clear understanding of what the landscape ahead will look like, ask about the options that work within your budget, and then really ask yourself: can I afford to fail if I lack the mental or emotional skills and energy required to do this all on my own?
Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish.
By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.