New Hampshire’s rules for attorneys have changed recently, creating more options that can result in lower overall expenses for consumers of legal services.
Individuals who are now or potentially involved in a law suit, divorce, domestic violence, or any legal matter, but cannot afford the traditional up-front retainer for full representation, may hire an attorney to help with a piece of the case, instead of the entire matter from start to finish.
For instance, someone who is representing herself, called Pro se, may need assistance in writing a complaint or answering a pleading, filling out divorce papers, talking about the merits of a case or what the law says, or help in understanding contracts, like a purchase and sale agreement for real estate. An attorney may also provide assistance at a court hearing. Any attorney in this state may offer these “unbundled" services. However, most, at this time, do not.
Perhaps this is because it’s new. However, there are some disadvantages to both the client and the lawyer. The client can only depend on her attorney to perform the tasks described in their agreement. If you hire a lawyer for hearing, and only for one hearing, after that hearing that lawyer is under no obligation to even answer a phone call from you. She may not be available if more assistance is desired.
The lawyer is disadvantaged in that there is less of an opportunity to build a relationship with the client. The better you know someone, the better you can counsel them.
If you decide that limited services are for you, your attorney will ask you to sign consent forms that state the limits of representation and that you understand that the attorney does not have to give you more help than the agreement spells out. Payment for the limited services may be either a fixed fee or a flexible hourly fee. The fee agreement may be part of the consent form or a separate agreement.
To make the most of the time you spend with your limited representation attorney, I have a few suggestions. Firstly, know why you are seeking help. It will save you money to have a goal for the time. If the Court is not yet involved, you might just want to find out what your options are or what the Court’s process is. That’s OK. Ask, at the time you make the appointment, if your goal is reasonable for the allotted time.
Find out how the attorney will charge you for the time and if the fee is negotiable. Fees vary widely. I have charged a premium occasionally because I was given only hours to prepare for a hearing and had to put off other work, or pay for another’s services so that I could attend the hearing. Part of the reason you are considering limited representation is because you want to keep your legal expenses low. Get concrete numbers up front based on your particular situation.
Also, stick to the issue. If you are seeking assistance in drafting divorce papers, stick to the facts. Ask your questions and answer the attorney’s, but try not to get distracted with other issues unless directly related to your case.
Arrive prepared. Bring copies, for the attorney to keep, of all relevant documents, court papers, letters, emails, recordings and anything else the attorney needs review to help you with your goal.
Many people are very comfortable managing parts of their case. For them, “unbundled" services is a fantastic new option that makes legal services more available and with a lower overall cost.