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.
  
        

IF YOU THINK YOU CAN’T AFFORD A FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY, YOU’RE PROBABLY WRONG

If you think you can’t afford a Family Law Attorney, you’re probably wrong.  Consider what’s at stake:  Your children.  Your assets.  Your future.  Placing these important matters in the hands of an experienced professional, rather than taking a do-it-yourself approach, is likely to pay dividends.  While it is true that contested divorce and/or custody cases can become expensive, there are strategies you can utilize which are designed to maximize the odds of a favorable outcome, while minimizing the cost.

FIND A QUALITY ATTORNEY:

When hiring a Family Law Attorney look for someone with extensive experience and an excellent reputation.  One good way of doing this is to ask for a recommendation from a therapist, a counselor, other attorneys, or people you know who have gone through a divorce or custody case.  When you have narrowed your search, meet and talk with the attorney to make sure you are comfortable with him or her.  Prepare a list of questions to ask at your consultation, so that you can make sure you understand how the process works and what the attorney will be doing for you.  If you do not feel a sense of trust and confidence in the attorney, find another.   A strong, experienced attorney may have a higher hourly rate than an inexperienced or sloppy one, but he will not spend his time – and your money – “spinning his wheels.”  He knows what needs to be done, and how to do it.  

LOOK FOR WAYS TO NEGOTIATE:

When a person becomes embroiled in a heated divorce or custody dispute, it is easy to simply “shut-down” and refuse to communicate.  This is a recipe for a lengthy and expensive litigation.  Certainly, there are times when you need to stand your ground and fight (for instance, you wouldn’t want to give joint decision-making authority and equal parenting time to a child abuser); however, in the vast majority of cases a negotiated solution is possible, and it’s likely to be the quicker, less expensive, and better option.  There are a number of dispute resolution alternatives that you can use to simplify the process and save money.  These include private mediation, court ordered ADR conferences, and settlement conferences conducted by a judge pro tempore   You can also set up a settlement meeting with the parties and their attorneys.  

By being willing to negotiate, you take control of the situation rather than placing your life in the hands of a judge who doesn’t know you and has only a limited amount of time to hear your case.  When parties to a divorce or custody case are able to successfully negotiate their own resolution, they tend to “own it” and are happier with the outcome in the long run.  They have “built a bridge” and learned to communicate.  Therefore, they are less likely to run back to court, and spend their hard-earned money on attorneys, whenever a future dispute arises. 

It helps to view mediation or a settlement conference as a business negotiation.  Taking strong emotions out of the equation allows you to view things more objectively and make better decisions.  Your attorney can assist you in preparing for the negotiation, so that when you walk into the meeting you will be confident and well-organized.  This will increase your chances for success. If the negotiation doesn’t result in a settlement, your attorney is standing by, ready to go to battle for you.  However, a strong, experienced attorney who is looking out for your best interests can often save you tens-of-thousands-of-dollars by helping you reach a favorable settlement and avoid a lengthy, contentious, expensive litigation. 

CONSIDER “LIMITED SCOPE” REPRESENTATION:

If you have a relatively simple matter, or if you cannot afford an attorney to represent you on a full-time basis, you can still make effective use of an attorney by having him or her assist you on a “Limited Scope” basis (sometimes referred to as “unbundled services”).  Lawyers in Arizona are now allowed to assist a party by performing a particular service, such as writing a letter, or participating in a deposition, or drafting a legal document to be filed with the court, or even by appearing on the client‘s behalf for just one hearing.  This procedure requires the attorney and client to enter into a written agreement specifying the action to be performed.  Thereafter, the lawyer files a Notice of Limited Scope Representation and appears in the case for the purpose of providing the service described in the agreement and the Notice.  When that service has been completed, the lawyer files another notice and withdraws from the matter, and the attorney-client relationship is terminated.  If the lawyer is needed later in the case, he can once again become involved, but a new attorney-client agreement and Notice of Limited Scope Representation is necessary.  By using an attorney on a Limited Scope basis you are able to save money, since the attorney is working only on a specified project and is not representing you in the case as a whole. 


USING AN ATTORNEY AS A CONSULTANT:

If you cannot afford full-time legal representation in a Family Law litigation, you might consider using an attorney as a consultant.  You can do this by scheduling consultations with the attorney, as-needed, in order to help you understand the process, so that you can effectively represent yourself.  The lawyer does not represent you in your case.  Rather, you are going in for advice, from time to time.

When a litigant steps into the courtroom, he or she is expected to understand the applicable law and the proper procedure.  This is where many self-represented litigants get lost.  The result can be disastrous.  Presenting a legal case is not simply a matter of writing a letter to the court, or standing before the judge and telling your story.  There are rules of procedure, and rules of evidence, and you need to know what documents to file and when to file them.  There are also time limitations.  Imagine stepping on a baseball field to play in a game without knowing the rules.  Which end of the bat do I use?  What is a “Ball” or a “Strike?”  After I hit the ball, which way do I run?  In court, just like in a sporting event, there are rules to the game, and if you don’t know those rules you are at a huge disadvantage.  This is why so many self-represented litigants come into the courtroom full of hope, and walk out distraught, having suffered a terrible outcome, and feeling as if they were never heard.  They lost because they didn’t know the rules of the game.

Presenting an effective argument to the court requires much thought and a great deal of organization and preparation.  For instance, it is not enough simply state that your opponent is lying about his income, or that you earn less now than you did the last time you were in court.  You must have documentary proofin the form of tax returns, W-2’s, pay stubs, bank statements, and/or other income information.  Putting together the necessary proof and presenting your argument in a persuasive manner are critical to achieving a successful outcome.  This is where a consultation with an attorney can be of great value. 

In a consultation, the attorney can help you understand the law and your legal rights.  He can help you learn the rules of court.  He can help you put together your documents and organize the evidence in a manner that will allow you to prove your case.  Finally, the attorney can assist you in determining the best way to present your argument to the judge. 

 There are many ways in which you can use an attorney to help you achieve a favorable result in your Family Law Case.  It’s not only wealthy people who can afford a good lawyer.  You can, too.

Gary Frank, has been a courtroom litigator in the Family Law arena for over thirty years, and is a strong and committed advocate for his clients.  In addition to being a litigation attorney, Mr. Frank has acted in the capacity of a Judge Pro Tem in the Maricopa County Superior Court.  This has given him an understanding of the inner-workings of the court, and a unique perspective  that most attorneys lack.  He has also acted, for many years, as a professional mediator of Family Law disputes.   We handle a full range of Family Law matters, including divorce, custody, legal decision-making, parenting time, spousal maintenance, child support, division of property and assets, modification and enforcement actions, as well paternity/maternity cases, grandparent or non-parent custody and visitation actions, and relocation/move-away cases.  If you are in need of a consultation regarding any area of Family Law, please do not hesitate to give our office a call today at 602-383-3610; or feel free to contact us through our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com; or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.   We’d be happy to help you.


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.