The Orange County Register NATION/WORLD
Friday, Oct. 24, 1997
Cut legal costs by doing some of the work yourself.
Maybe all you need is a lawyer to serve as a ‘coach’ on an as-needed basis. Kiplinger’s Magazine
If you have a question, write to Money Q&A, The Orange County Register, P.O. Box 11626, Santa Ana, Calif. 92711, or fax to (714) 565-3685. Please include your phone number. We publish answers every Thursday.
From divorce to bankruptcy, the number of pro se cases, in which litigants represent themselves, has surged. But are these do-it-yourselfers doing themselves justice?
Forrest “Woody” Mosten doesn’t think so. Mosten, a $425-an-hour family-law attorney in Beverly Hills, thinks pro se litigants in divorce cases tend to get less child and spousal support, miss out on financial advice about how to divvy up assets and don’t get the benefit of hearings on temporary orders such as custody.
But Mosten’s solution isn’t what you’d expect. Rather than recommend that someone hire him to take over a case, Mosten offers his services as a “legal coach” on an as-needed basis, with emphasis on helping people find ways to settle out of court.
Mosten’s clients can do as much or as little of the work as they want. In her divorce, Janet Winer gathered the financial documents and met her husband to discuss settlement options. But when she wanted guidance, she turned to Mosten. Even at $425 an hour, Winer figures she saved more than $5,000 by doing so much legwork herself.
In Rowayton, Conn., lawyer Barbara Shea operates a similar service.
“Law firms charge a lot of money for photocopying,” says Shea, whose hourly rate is $325. “But you’re perfectly capable of doing it more cheaply yourself.”
She says her coaching clients get “essence de lawyer” instead of high-priced administrative services.
Even courts are getting into the do-it-yourself act. After years of struggling with self-represented (and under-prepared) litigants, the Maricopa County (Arizona) Superior Court started a self-service center. Pro se litigants have access to a 24-hour information hot line, hundreds of instructions on how to fill them out and a list of lawyers willing to coach clients. (www.maricopa.gov/supcrt/ssc/sschome.html). The Supreme Court of Florida in Tallahassee offers similar services (www.firn.edu/supct).
Despite the trend, legal coaches are hard to find. Judge Rebecca Albrecht of the Maricopa County Superior Court suggests that you approach a lawyer and request partial representation.
“Say, ‘I want to do some things on my own, and here are other things I can’t do, and I want you to represent me on those,'” Albrecht says. “If the first lawyer (won’t) do that… go on to the next person on your list.”
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