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Why are attorneys unaffordable? To be sure, attorneys are never “cheap,” because they provide a service which non-lawyers are not able to provide. Not only do attorneys possess formal law school education, but they are required to continually receive additional legal education.
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Attorneys who fail to competently provide legal services are in breach of their ethical duty. If incompetence results in a financial loss to the client, the attorney may be liable for those losses. Thus, most attorneys carry—and therefore pay for—malpractice insurance. California does not require attorneys to carry malpractice insurance. California law does, however, require attorneys who do not have such insurance to notify clients in writing that they do not have it. But the attorneys who are not prudent enough to carry insurance are probably the same kind of attorney who would fail to notify a client of that fact.
In divorce and family law cases, when a person files a divorce or other type of case, the first hearing set by the court will be around four months down the road. The family law courts are quite congested. None of the cases get finished quickly. But there are things that attorneys can do to move cases along more quickly. Conversely, there are things that attorneys can do to delay cases and drive up the costs of a family law case. There are some attorneys who will do this intentionally, making their services less affordable.
Cost cannot be the only concern when selecting an attorney. Someone out there has the dubious distinction of being the worst attorney. And he or she has clients who pay for the attorney to represent them.
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Many law offices benefit from having a team of attorneys who work on clients’ cases. Certainly there is strength in numbers for certain types of corporate and high stakes litigation law firms. In family law, that is less true. In a divorce case, it is highly advantageous, and often more affordable, for a client to deal with a single attorney who not only has a command of the client’s case, but can develop a rapport with the client and understand the client’s preference for how the divorce case (or child custody, or domestic violence, or what have you) should be handled. When a client is billed by a law firm with multiple employees, the client pays the attorney for the work the attorney does, plus an inflated rate for the work that paralegals and assistants do so that the partners in the firm can profit from their labor.
Technology has greatly improved the ability of attorneys to practice law efficiently. With the advent of e-mail, attorneys can quickly communicate with clients without the need for a secretary to type letters. With the ability to scan documents, it is no longer necessary to make multiple paper copies of documents. With computerized legal research, hours spent in law libraries are a thing of the past. The list goes on and on.
Not only can attorneys be more efficient within the walls of their offices, but the prevalence of mobile devices such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones means that attorneys can work on clients’ cases out of the office too. When attorneys go to court, the client whose matter they are appearing on is billed for every minute the attorney spends in court, including waiting around for the client’s case to be called. A more affordable option for the client can be achieved if an attorney is working on a different client’s case on a laptop computer; thus, the attorney does not have to bill the client whose case has a court hearing for the attorney to wait around doing nothing.
Most likely, the legal system will not do away with the need for attorneys to go to court and advocate for their clients. However, for short matters, attorneys now have the option to appear by phone, which saves the attorney having to drive to the courthouse, find parking, walk through security, wait for their case to be called, conduct the short hearing, and drive back to his or her office. And more importantly, it is more affordable to the client who does not have to pay for the wasted time.
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From time to time, divorce attorneys have multiple appearances at the same courthouse, but hours apart. It is inefficient for the attorney to return to the office, only to return once again. In today’s age, offices have sprung up in cities everywhere which allow attorneys to work at multiple locations. Attorneys can work in an office near the courthouse in between court appearances, saving the wasted time of driving back and forth to court and making their total cost more affordable.
Often, family court hearings result in the court making an order. Rather than the clerk typing out the order, the court orders one of the parties’ attorneys to reduce the order to writing. Before the judge will sign the order, the other attorney must agree that what the first attorney wrote is correct.
If they disagree, then a letter must be sent to the court explaining the disagreement and asking the court to sign the order which correctly states what order the judge made on the hearing date. Unfortunately, one of the ways that the family court in San Diego has dealt with budget cuts is to eliminate court reporters from family court hearings.
Physical child custody means the power to control where the children live and with whom they spend time
Thus, there is no transcript available to check when the parties disagree with what the judge actually ordered. This potential for disagreement can make even an otherwise affordable attorney unaffordable.
Fortunately, there is a way to avoid this scenario. Technology has once again made it possible to make the order drafting practice more affordable. Portable printers allow an attorney to immediately after the court hearing to draft the order while sitting side by side the opposing attorney.
They can work together to finalize the order and print it out right at court and submit it to the court for the judge’s signature. If they disagree with what they heard the judge order, they can simply go back into the courtroom and ask the judge, with only minutes having gone by as opposed to weeks or months for the judge to try to remember what the order was, all without the benefit of an official transcript.