What is Flat Fee Assistance (also known as Limited Assistance Representation?)
On May 1, 2009, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts expanded the Limited Assistance Representation program (hereinafter "LAR") to include all trial court departments. Limited Assistance Representation (also called "unbundling") allows a lawyer to provide partial services to a client, limiting the attorney's representation to only a specific matter while the client manages the remainder of the case. In Family Law, this often means that the lawyer either assists in the preparation of court pleadings, but doesn't go to court, or agrees to only go to court for specific events. Limiting services in this way allows for greater predictability in the amount of time an attorney might spend working on your case. This predictability allows us to provide a Flat Fee for many family law related services.
What are the advantages of LAR?
Hiring an attorney to represent you in your family law case can prevent costly mistakes. If you sign agreements you do not understand, you will still be stuck with the consequences. For example, in cases that could involve future alimony, or complicated income or business issues, the choices you make now could create lifetime obligations. We guide our clients through the court process ensuring they understand the documents and agreements they sign, or the consequences of seeking the opinion of a Judge at trial. LAR allows you the option of hiring an attorney for advice, or limited appearances without having to incur the cost of an attorney for your entire case. In many circumstances this also allows the attorney enough predictability to be able to provide a flat fee service, something that is otherwise typically unusual in divorce litigation.
How are the fees set for LAR?
Every case is different, and although our hourly rate is standard, it is very hard to know how much time a particular case will take especially in divorce litigation which often involves high emotions. The LAR program allows us to limit our representation in a way that allows greater predictability in the amount of time we will have to spend on your case. After consultation regarding the type of services you want to limit our representation to and the complications involved in your case, we are usually able to provide a flat fee that we are willing to work for in those circumstances. If you then decide to hire us for further services we can agree to work on an hourly basis or work out a new flat fee for those additional services. In each case, a Limited Assistance Retainer Agreement will be signed by both the attorney and the client, specifically stating what services the attorney is to provide and what portions of the case, the client intends to perform on their own.
Does a lawyer have to be certified to provide LAR?
The LAR program is an exception to the normal rules, in which attorneys file unlimited appearances and "ghostwriting" is frowned upon. Under the LAR program, "ghostwriting" (writing pleadings on behalf of a client who will present them without counsel) and limited appearances are permitted by the Supreme Judicial Court to give more parties the opportunity to have legal advice even if they cannot afford an attorney for their whole case. The program requires that attorneys participate in a training for LAR in order to be eligible to provide these limited services. Attorney Kelsey participated in the required LAR training at the Norfolk Probate & Family Court, when LAR was only a pilot program, before it was expanded in May 2009, and is therefore certified to practice LAR.