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If you are seeking true, unbundled legal representation for your divorce, your best bet may not be the storefront legal office that promises to take you through the process for anywhere from $99 to $399. At such offices, you'll often end up working with a paralegal who can fill out forms for you and file appropriate court documents, but who is not geared to offer specific, complex advice.
Likewise, websites offering inexpensive divorces are often staffed by paralegals filling out state divorce forms. If they give advice, it may be nothing more than a loss leader for continued services that end up being far more costly. One credible and helpful site we know offers a consultation session geared to your state for $34.95, without a specific time limit. For a yearly subscription fee of $89, you will be referred to attorneys in your area who, thereafter, charge $89 an hour. But remember, referral by your local Bar Association or self-help center is free.
Limited-scope legal assistance carries with it attorney-client privilege, but also limited attorney liability.
Buyer beware! Many websites that dispense legal services may provide initial legal advice on the cheap, but only as a loss leader for additional costly services. Many, ultimately, charge substantial fees.
In fact, although such options can yield appropriate legal feedback, we suggest you start your search for limited-scope legal representation offline, in the same place you would go for guidance as a litigant—the pro se assistance programs now available in jurisdictions across the United States. These centers, often state-sponsored and associated with the courts, can provide forms, videos, brochures, and general legal information, but you'll sometimes find attorneys working there and willing to provide advice. If the assistance program can't help you, they frequently can refer you to attorneys willing to help, one issue at a time.
If you aren't satisfied or if these attorneys charge too much, contact your local Bar Association to see if you can tap what's known as the “reduced fee panel,” whose members charge for legal services based on income. Some won't handle divorce cases, but many do. If none of these venues helps you turn up your limited-scope attorney, you might check out the profiles approved by the group who coordinated the 2000 National Conference on Unbundled Legal Services, which you can find at www.unbundledlaw.org. You might also check out unbundled resources at the American Bar Association website, at www.abanet.org.
As you search for a limited-scope divorce attorney, remember that this is a specialty, just like any other area of law. Sure, you could go to the highest-powered divorce firm in your city and request services à la carte, but that is unlikely to do you much good. Full-service divorce attorneys won't be seduced by the few hundred or couple thousand dollars you can part with to manage your marital woes. Even if they made an exception for you, they wouldn't be accustomed to delivering what you need. Likewise, storefront legal offices that function as “paralegal paper mills” are likely to consider your request to focus on an outside-the-box or individual issue a disruption to the workflow. Instead, seek out an attorney who specializes in unbundled divorce—the kind of lawyer who handles family law as a solo practitioner, or as part of a small firm, who has recently decided to join the growing contingent of attorneys selling divorce services à la carte.