HOW TO USE AN ATTORNEY AS A CONSULTANT, AND SAVE MONEY

It is true that a lawyer can provide useful legal advice, helpful guidance, and strong representation for anyone involved in a Family Law case,  However, not everyone chooses to retain and attorney — and not everyone can afford one.  Fortunately, there are a number of options for obtaining the services of an attorney, and some of those options are very affordable.  One of the most effective, and least expensive, ways to utilize an attorney is to use him or her as a consultant on an as-needed basis.
OBTAINING A LEGAL CONSULTATION
Representing yourself in a contested Family Law action presents an enormous challenge.  Parties to litigation are expected to understand the law and rules of Family Law procedure.  The fact that you are a layman, and not a lawyer, is no excuse for violating procedural rules.  Imagine trying to play in a basketball game without knowing the rules.  The coach calls your name, but when you walk on the court you don’t know how to dribble or pass the ball, or even which basket to shoot at.  That’s the kind of disadvantage you have when you walk into a courtroom as a “pro se” (self-represented) litigant.  You may wind up losing your case without ever knowing why, or how, it happened.  Obviously, it is best to be represented by legal counsel.  But not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to afford to retain an attorney on an ongoing basis.  So, what is the next best thing?  Seek a one-time consultation with an attorney.  In that meeting, which customarily takes place in the lawyer’s office, you will have the opportunity to discuss your specific matter with an expert.  The attorney will describe how the court process works and talk to you about your legal rights. He or she can help you identify the documents (called “exhibits”) and the witnesses that you will need to prove your case.  The attorney can also devise a “game plan” and help you map out a strategy for making a strong argument in court.  This is the time to ask questions, so that you can feel confident going forward.  When the consultation is over and you walk out of that lawyer’s office you should have a much better idea of the law, your legal rights, and how to present your case in the best possible light.
FOLLOW-UP CONSULTATIONS
During the course of the litigation (which can last for several months, or even a year or more) new issues, and new questions, will likely arise.  When this happens, you can follow up by obtaining additional consultations with an attorney, as necessary.  It is important to remember that since the attorney is not representing you in the litigation, he or she will have no obligation to stay updated with the facts and legal issues of your case or perform work on your behalf.  However, by using an attorney to provide you with basic advice from time to time, you will still be far better off than if you were to try to figure things out by yourself, without any legal guidance.

ASSISTANCE IN PREPARING FOR MEDIATION OR SETTLEMENT NEGOTIATIONS
Parties to a divorce or custody dispute would be well-advised to explore the possibility of resolving their issues through mediation or settlement negotiations, rather than fighting it out in court.  No matter how strong your case may be, there is always a risk that the judge might see things differently, and you may lose.  Resolving the case through negotiation gives you the opportunity to carve out the terms of your own agreement, rather than allowing a judge to decide what is best for you and your family.  People who are able to negotiate their own agreement tend to be happier with the arrangement.  Why?  Because it is their agreement.  They made it.  And they “own” it.  It wasn’t imposed upon them by a judge who is a stranger to the parents and the children.  
Although mediation (or a settlement conference) is a great alternative to battling it out in court, many people reduce their chances for success by walking into the negotiation session without proper preparation.  This is a serious mistake.  In that meeting you will be dealing with crucial issues, such as custody of children, legal decision-making, parenting time, financial support, and division of property.  Lack of preparation could cause you to overlook things that are important, or it could lead you to make compromises that are not in your best interest.  Not being prepared could also cause you to become so fearful of making a bad deal that you are unable to make a deal at all — and then you miss an opportunity to avoid a contentious trial and reach an agreement that is fair for everybody.  These types of mistakes, due to lack of preparation, can have drastic long-term consequences.   As the old saying goes, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”
For an affordable fee you can obtain a consultation with an attorney to help you prepare for your upcoming mediation or settlement conference.  The attorney will review your legal paperwork, financial documents, and/or other important information, and talk to you about the facts of your case, as well as your needs, your goals, and your wishes.  The attorney can also help you formulate your settlement position and devise a negotiating strategy.  By the time you walk out of that lawyer’s office, you should feel more confident in your ability to negotiate on your own behalf.  
USING AN ATTORNEY TO HELP YOU PREPARE DOCUMENTS
For someone going through a simple uncontested divorce, the Maricopa County Superior Court Self Service Center provides forms that can be downloaded online, for free.  These forms can be found at www.superiorcourt.maricopa.gov/ssc.  Hard copies of the forms can be picked up at the courthouse.  However, figuring out how to fill out those forms and navigate your way through the court process can be a daunting and confusing task.  A certified document preparer can fill out your forms but is not allowed to give you legal advice. On the other hand, for the price of an affordable consultation, you can meet with a licensed attorney who will not only check to make sure you have filled out your forms properly, but will also explain your legal rights and describe how the court process works.  You may not have the resources to retain an attorney on an ongoing basis in your Family Law matter, but by using an attorney from time-to-time as a consultant you will have an expert to help guide you through the process.
YOU CAN AFFORD AN ATTORNEY
Utilizing an attorney as a consultant on an as-needed basis allows you to control your costs.  For someone who does not wish to hire a full-time attorney, or for someone who cannot afford one, obtaining legal consultations from time-to-time can pay great dividends.  The attorney can assist you in many ways, including explaining the law; advising you of your legal rights; guiding you through the court process; assisting you in planning your strategy; drafting motions or other documents that you may need to file; and helping you to prepare for mediation, court hearings and/or the trial.  Using an attorney as a consultant is an affordable option, and a very good one.
Gary J. Frank is an attorney and mediator with over thirty years of Family Law experience in dealing in divorcecustody, and parenting issues. For many years he acted as a Judge Pro Tempore in the Maricopa County Superior Court, which gave him an insight into the inner workings of the courts that many attorneys lack.  In addition to representing Family Law clients in litigation, we are also willing to help people by working with them on a Limited-Scope or Consultation-Only basis.  Our office is located in the Biltmore area of central Phoenix, with satellite offices in Scottsdale and Paradise Valley, Arizona.  We can be reached by telephone (602-383-3610); or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.  You can also reach us through our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.  If you are in need of a consultation regarding any area of Family Law, contact us today.  We’d be happy to help.
  
        

OUR INITIAL CONSULTATION – WHAT TO EXPECT

When you come in for an initial conference at the Law Office of Gary J. Frank P.C., what you get is a real legal consultation. Not a one-hour sales pitch, like you get from some other lawyers. In our first meeting, I will give you a solid understanding of your legal rights and how the court system works – and at the end of the meeting I will give you a “game-plan,” so that you will know what you must do to reach your goals. Unlike most firms, I do not limit the initial consultation to one hour.  Instead, I will take as much time as is necessary to:



• Learn about your family history and the background facts of your matter;


• Obtain important information that can be used to help you with your case in court;


• Listen to your concerns and answer your questions;


• Talk to you about the law pertaining to your case;


• Explain your legal rights under the Arizona statutes and appellate court caselaw;


• Discuss the court process – how it works, how long it takes, what documents must be filed; what information must be disclosed; what hearings are held, and how the judge looks at the dispute;


• Discuss options for peaceful resolution of your dispute outside of the court-system, such as Mediation, Conciliation Services Conferences, Settlement Conferences using a judge pro tem, round-table negotiations between the parties and their attorneys; and other healthy alternatives;


• Talk about legal fees and a range of how much your matter might cost; and


• I’ll give you a “game plan” tailored to your needs and the specific facts of your matter.  The “game plan” is my recommendations and advice regarding what must be done in your case and the steps that you can take to reach your goals.


An initial conference with an attorney is a critical step in the process of finding a solution to your problem. This is where you begin, for the first time, to put together a “road map” of where you want to go and how to get there.


By the time you leave my office after your first consultation, you should have a much better understanding of your legal rights; of how the court process works; of what your options are; and of what you will need to do to reach your goals and resolve your problem.  Many people walk into our office timid and afraid, and leave armed with knowledge and a sense of renewed confidence.


If you are in need of a legal consultation regarding a divorce, custody, or other family law matter, please check out our web site: http://www.garyfranklaw.com/ .  You can always call us at 602-383-3610 or contact us by email.   I look forward to meeting you.


Sincerely,

Gary Frank

WITH AN ATTORNEY, YOU HAVE AN ADVANTAGE IN FAMILY COURT — If You Can’t Afford One, There Are Options

Imagine walking up to bat in a baseball game – and you don’t know the rules.  You don’t know the difference between a “ball” and a “strike.”  You don’t know that three strikes is an “out,” or that three outs ends the “inning.”  You are aware that you’re supposed to swing at the pitch, but once you hit the ball, you don’t know which way to run.  No matter how hard you try or how athletic you are, the fact that you don’t know the rules of the game puts you at a huge disadvantage.


If you decide to represent yourself in a divorce, custody, or other Family Law case – especially if there is an attorney on the other side – then you may find yourself at a similar disadvantage, one that is hard to overcome. When you step into the courtroom as a litigant, you are expected to know the rules of procedure and the rules of evidence.  That you are a layman and not a lawyer is no excuse.  Your lack of knowledge can prevent you from being able to properly question a witness, or present evidence, or tell your side of the story in court.  In a matter involving custody or parenting time, the end-result can be devastating.

Attorneys go through years of schooling and training, followed by continuing education, in order to be able to understand the nuances of the law and the rules of court.  They know how the game is played.  This is why, in the courtroom, a person representing himself is no match for a trained-lawyer.

Obviously, hiring a qualified attorney in a Family Law case gives a party the best chance of obtaining a favorable outcome.  But what happens if you simply cannot afford ongoing legal representation?  Thankfully, there are a number of options:

1. LEGAL CONSULTATION WITH AN ATTORNEY:

If you cannot afford to hire an attorney to represent you on an ongoing basis in your Family Law dispute, then at least you may be able to pay a lawyer to provide a one-time legal consultation.  Much important information can be obtained from a one or two-hour meeting with a lawyer.  For instance, in a consultation at the law office of Gary J. Frank P.C, I will carefully listen to the client’s concerns and ask questions about the client’s family history, so that I can identify the issues that apply to that particular case.   Once I have sufficient background information, I will discuss the applicable law and help the client understand his or her legal rights.  Then I will talk about how the court process works, and I’ll give the client a “game plan” and tips on how to present his/her case in the best possible light. 

If you are representing yourself in a contested custody or other family law matter, then during the course of the case you may wish to return to the attorney’s office from time to time for additional consultations.  Although the attorney is not representing you in the legal action, additional consultations will provide you with updated information and a better understanding of what you need to do at various stages of the proceeding.  For someone who cannot afford an attorney, a legal consultation can be a useful tool to help navigate the difficult terrain of litigation.

2. LIMITED SCOPE REPRESENTATION:

In Arizona, a person who does not have the resources to retain an attorney on an ongoing basis in a Family Law litigation can now hire an attorney to perform a particular, and limited, task.  This is called Limited Scope Representation.  For instance, you might need an attorney to prepare a written motion or some other legal document for you; or appear and represent you at a single court hearing; or maybe attend and conduct a deposition.  This type of limited representation requires a written agreement, signed by both the party and the attorney, which describes in detail the task to be performed.  The attorney will file a Notice of Limited Scope Appearance with the court before performing the task.  When the task has been completed, the attorney will file a Notice of Withdrawal and the representation is terminated.  Thereafter, you will continue representing yourself.  If you need further assistance later on in the litigation, a new Limited Scope Agreement must be signed before the attorney can work on your behalf.

Of course, you can always obtain a consultation with an attorney at any time without having to sign a Limited Scope or an Attorney-Client Agreement

3. MEDIATION:

Mediation is the “peaceful path.”  It is a voluntary and confidential process in which the parties to a dispute sit down with a neutral 3rd party (the mediator) who helps them negotiate a settlement that is acceptable to everyone.  While litigation can be adversarial and expensive, mediation is more collaborative and less expensive.  So, it is worth a try.  If, after using their best efforts, the parties are unable to reach a settlement in mediation, then they can still litigate the matter in court.  Attempting to mediate a Family Law dispute is good alternative for everyone, but for someone who cannot afford an attorney, it may provide the best shot at a fair and inexpensive resolution of the problem.


 I have represented people, and provided strong advocacy, in all types of Family Law disputes for nearly thirty years.  For almost twenty of those years, I have acted as a Family Law Mediator, helping people to negotiate the terms of their own settlement.  I do my best to assist people who cannot afford to retain a full-time attorney by providing legal consultations and Limited Scope Representation.  If you are in need of help and would like to set up an appointment with an attorney, you can contact us by telephone at 602-383-3610 or through our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com.

A ONE-TIME CONSULTATION WITH AN ATTORNEY CAN REALLY HELP

Filing for divorce on your own can be overwhelming.  Wading through the court-approved forms may be confusing and is often an exercise in futility.  What are my legal rights? What should I ask for? How does the court process work?  How do I know I’m doing this correctly?  There is so much at stake:  Division of property and debts, custody, parenting time, child support, spousal maintenance.  Handling any one of these issues improperly could mean the difference between a future of relative comfort or years of suffering.  When the divorce is done, it’s done.  You have one chance to get it right.  Undoing a mistake is difficult and, sometimes, impossible. 

Document preparers can help you fill out paperwork but they’re not trained in the law.  They’re prohibited from providing legal advice.  Lawyers, on the other hand, have the benefit of many years of legal training and continuing education.  They are well-versed in the law; they understand the divorce process and can help you understand what is best for you.


But what if your divorce is simple, or you just can’t afford ongoing legal representation?  Even if you’ve decided to represent yourself, you can still benefit from an attorney’s advice — and chances are that the expense is less than you imagined.  You can use an attorney as a counselor, an adviser, a guide to help you through the legal process.

A one-time consultation with an attorney is relatively inexpensive, and it can help tremendously.  In a single meeting, the lawyer can assist you in filling out the paperwork.  He or she can help you understand your legal rights, and explain what you need to do to request a hearing, obtain financial information, or get a trial date.  The lawyer can formulate a game plan, answer your questions, and help you navigate through the sticky and sometimes complicated issues involved in a Family Law case.  Don’t just assume that you can’t afford legal advice.  Call for a one-time consultation.  You may be surprised at how affordable it is — and how much it helps.




Gary Frank is an Arizona Family Law Attorney with more than 30 years of experience in handling cases involving divorce, custody, parenting time, child support, spousal maintenance, division of property, grandparent and non-parent rights, and all other matters relating to family law.  If you would like a consultation, feel free to contact us at 602-383-3610 or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.  To find out more about our firm, take a look at our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.

It’s easier than you may think, and less expensive, too.