If you have ever needed legal help, you know that finding the right lawyer can feel a lot like wandering alone at night in the Fire Swamp. There are plenty of R.O.U.S.s and the financial hole you may find yourself in can feel a lot like lightning sand beneath your feet. So, what should an ordinary person needing a simple divorce do? There are certainly situations where having a highly skilled attorney on retainer is necessary. Indeed, getting good legal advice in any case is critical. But for those with more straightforward or low-conflict matters, hiring a fancy, full-scope attorney is probably unnecessary.
Legal services are due for momentous change. For my inaugural blog post, I thought I would cover some potentially shifting ground in the legal world with a discussion on the professional services of legal coaching and consulting. What is it? What are the differences among full scope representation, limited scope representation, and legal consulting?
Full Scope Attorney
A Full scope attorney provides professional legal representation to clients who retain the attorney in every aspect of the client's legal matter, from start to finish. The attorney may make an official appearance on the record if a court case exists. In these circumstances, all communications about the case are made through counsel. The client cooperates with the attorney to provide information, evidence, and other details necessary for the attorney to represent the client, usually with minimal labor and effort required of the client.
Typically, full scope attorneys require hefty retainer fees, paid in full at the outset. In Utah, the average divorce costs approximately $14,000. The average hourly rate for attorneys in Weber and Davis counties is approximately $250/hour and the average initial retainer fee is anywhere from $2,500 to $7,000, depending on facts and circumstances of the case and the firm/attorney quoting the fee.
Full scope attorneys apply their hourly rate to all "billable hours." What is "billable" varies depending on the firm and attorney. Attorneys will apply their billable rate for any labor spent on client's matter. This includes activities beyond court time. In fact, significant part of a client's case is worked on outside of court. Activities like document preparation (such as letters, emails, and legal memoranda, motions, affidavits, etc.), telephone calls, mediation, and strategizing. In other words, it adds up quickly. Some attorneys have been known to charge their full hourly rate for their travel time to and from court or mediation. It is a good idea to read the retainer agreement and ask questions prior to signing.
Limited Scope Attorneys
It's true that only a lawyer can give you legal advice. But, what if you don't want to spend thousands of dollars to get divorced? A limited scope attorney or legal consultant offering unbundled services may be your answer.
Limited scope attorneys handle some parts of your case, while you handle other parts. Limited scope legal services are often sold as "unbundled legal services." Such services are gaining traction in the United States, in part because legal fees are fast becoming prohibitively expensive. This seems true even for the more simple divorce and parentage matters. The catch is, with limited scope services, more involvement, labor, and effort on the part of the client is required.
A legal consultant is a licensed lawyer. However, a legal consultant does not represent their client in court. Rather, a legal consultant assists clients with specific tasks, projects, paperwork, or other general advice or guidance. For example, one might use a legal consultant for advice on their DIY (self-filed) divorce forms and financial statements, or take an online course or workshop to help them file their own DIY divorce. A legal consultant may coach a pro se litigant through the complex and convoluted Utah divorce process. Consultants can write or review legal documents, offer second opinions, or offer general legal advice. Legal consultants empower their clients through education and information.
Legal consultants also provide some financial relief since they aren’t charging you for their time appearing on your behalf, preparing for hearings, making phone calls, and writing letters and emails. Many legal consultants offer unbundled services with flat fees and discounted packages.
Divorce is a Process
Like many complicated things, divorce is a lengthy process and getting the right legal help is crucial. But, if the drama is low, you and your spouse can get divorced without spending tens of thousands of dollars, or getting swallowed whole in the legal lightning sand of divorce.