Even if attorneys who get frequent feedback from clients are not likely talking to a lot of the people representing themselves in divorce. A Canadian study, seeking to improve the experiences of those going through divorce sought to discover what these self-represented clients want so that we can better learn how to serve them.
1. The attorney didn’t allow the client much input on the resolution of the case
Not surprisingly, a number complained that when they were working with an attorney, the attorney didn’t allow them much input on the direction of the case. Once the attorney received an initial retainer, he was off to handle the case his own way without much input from the client. When this happens, clients are left wondering if the attorney is doing anything. That is not how I handle cases. It has always been my philosophy that a client’s goals should direct the result. To be fair, most jurisdictions in the US state clearly that clients get to decide the goals of representation. It may be different in Canada.
2. Clients want access to unbundled legal services
Other clients stated that they wanted access to unbundled legal services. This is a term that describes when an attorney offers assistance to a client on a small part of a case rather than doing all the work from start to finish. The client may want an attorney to just appear at a single hearing or may only want an attorney for the early stages in the case where there is much more at stake. Once a baseline for a child custody arrangement is set for example, it may be less risky for a client to continue to represent themselves.
3. The attorney didn’t do anything for their case
Some complained that they hired an attorney and the attorney did nothing. While I doubt an attorney would truly do nothing, I suspect the attorneys didn’t do a very good job of explaining to the client what they were doing. I make sure to explain each step of the process as thoroughly as I can so that clients understand why each step is important. This is part of why I spend so much time writing blog posts. Attorneys take for granted many things that make no sense to someone unfamiliar with the legal system. As much as I can explain these basic concepts, it makes life easier for the clients.
4. Clients spent a lot of money on legal fees without much progress
Worse, some complained that they spent massive sums of money on the resolution of their case without any useful progress. Some reported spending $50,000-$80,000 on an attorney while still not reaching a resolution of the case. I can see no reason for such insane bills except for attorneys who draw out the case as much as possible to maximize billable hours. This is why I work on a fixed fee basis. It helps my interests align with the client’s.
What makes me different?
1. I change my approach to each case based on what is important to each client
I recognize that each client is unique and thus there is no single approach that works in every case. I make full use of the initial consultation and early meetings with clients to discuss what is important to the client so that I know where to focus my energy. I frequently check in with clients to make sure that they understand how each step of the process is going to help them achieve their goals. Some clients will want to focus on getting custody of their children. Others will want to explain to the court that simply because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) does not mean that they are unfit to take care of their children. Other clients want an amicable resolution of their divorce.
2. I offer unbundled legal services when it makes sense for the client
Some clients may only want to initially have me defend them against a restraining order. I have no problem with handling the case one phase at a time. Some clients may want to wait until they get a child custody recommendation from Family Court Services before they decide if they need me to help them get a different custody order. I have no problem with that.
3. I provide updates along the way so that clients know what I am doing for them
Clients have a hard time knowing what their attorney is doing when they don’t hear from him for a month. Even if all I have to tell the client is that we are still waiting for a hearing that is a month off, it puts them at ease that I am thinking about their case. While I may have multiple cases, the client only has one.
4. I use fixed fees in my practice
Clients who spend a large amount of money without getting anywhere with their case likely dealt with attorneys charging by the hour. There is a temptation when billing by the hour to maximize the amount of hours you can bill a client which leads to attorneys filing unnecessary paperwork. By charging fixed fees, I focus more on what is important to the client and limit unnecessary legal work. I don’t do any work unless I believe that it will provide value to the client.
If you are facing divorce or dissolution of domestic partnership in San Diego, you should call an attorney to learn about the process and how an attorney can help guide you through it. Call Paul D. McGuire at the Law Office of Paul D. McGuire today for a free consultation at 858-242-5667.