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Are there any organizations or lawyers in the area that offer pro bono services to review paperwork for a divorce with children?

Salem, OR |

My brother's wife was recently arrested for distribution. She engaged in illegal activities while he attended school full time. They were already somewhat leading separate lives and my two year old niece was being watched by my parents while he went to school since she was not trustworthy anymore. Unfortunately he doesn't work and legal aide won't help him since she at one point obtained services through them. He wants to file for a divorce and obtain full custody of my niece. She is currently in jail. Are there any other resources out there for him? He is a student and doesn't have the means to hire an attorney at full cost.

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Attorney answers 3


Your brother needs to start by educating himself about the divorce and custody process in Oregon. Start with my "legal guides" on these subjects. They can be found on my profile page of this website. Then, he needs to meet with me to discuss all the aspects of his divorce: 503-650-9662, Diane. PS: there are a number of ways he can handle this divorce at low cost, but he FIRST must meet with a divorce attorney so he has some idea what to do and not to do.

Be sure to designate "best answer." If you live in Oregon, you may call me for more detailed advice, 503-650-9662. Please be aware that each answer on this website is based upon the facts, or lack thereof, provided in the question. To be sure you get complete and comprehensive answers, based upon the totality of your situation, contact a local attorney who specializes in the area of law that involves your legal problem. Diane L. Gruber has been practicing law in Oregon for 26 years, specializing in family law, bankruptcy, estate planning and probate. Note: Diane L. Gruber does not represent you until a written fee agreement has been signed by you and Diane L. Gruber, and the fee listed in the agreement has been paid.


Many attorneys will offer free consultations. Some will work for reduced rates, for clients of limited incomes. They can be cheaper than you may think. But handling an entire case pro bono is an entirely different matter. This is an issue that comes up a lot on this site, so let me take the opportunity to address it here:

Pro bono work is an important part of the legal tradition. I should know that if anyone does: I served on the Oregon State Bar's Pro Bono committee for the three years, and was its chairman in 2011. I have done quite a few pro bono cases, including one ongoing child custody case of great complexity. So I don't mean to discourage people from seeking out such help, and I certainly don't mean to discourage lawyers from providing it. That said:

The public often has highly unrealistic expectations for pro bono cases. People often think that if they're in trouble, they're automatically entitled to free services. It is almost never true. In general, pro bono work is done on cases that have a larger social impact, beyond the immediate effects on the client.

Even pro bono cases are likely to cost a fair amount of money. This is because litigation has considerable expenses that have nothing to do with paying your lawyer. There are costs for postage, copying enormous numbers of documents, hiring court reporters and investigators. There are filing fees and other court costs. There are often expert witnesses and other professionals (who generally do not have a pro bono tradition, and don't work for free). Oregon ethics rules prohibit attorneys from paying these costs unless they have a reasonable expectation that they'll be reimbursed. So even pro bono clients will need to advance some money up front.

And there's another reason that an attorney might want them to do so: In my experience, people don't value what they don't pay for. A lawyer can put a lot of work into a case, but if they're working all for free, the client may get fed up or frustrated when things don't go their way, and quit, or fail to appear for court, or stop following the lawyer's advice. This wastes all the lawyer's work and can make them look like an idiot before the Court. I am speaking from excruciating personal experience. Litigation is very slow and time-consuming and rarely works out perfectly, and you may be free to walk away at any time without an investment, but your lawyer is not. Our ethics rules require us to meet certain conditions before we withdraw. If you aren't committed to it, you can subject us to a ton of trouble.

It also bears mention that lawyers don't have as much money as you might think. The typical law school graduate today has over $100,000 in student loan debt. Lawyers have to pay Bar license fees, extremely expensive malpractice insurance premiums, and CLE (ongoing education) costs. Lawyers are not near the bottom - we are THE bottom, dead last, in terms of available jobs for professionals. The typical new law school graduate takes two years to find a job. Salaries are dropping for firms, and many self-employed solo practitioners (like myself) make less than minimum wage. So we get a bit annoyed, at being asked to work for free all the time.

I encourage you to shop around. You may be able to find a lawyer who can help you. But bear these issues in mind when you ask. You wouldn't want to do your own job for free, however badly people needed it done.

You may also check with your local court. Many courthouses have facilitators' offices that can give people assistance with the basics of filing documents. It's not legal advice (technically), but it's better than nothing.

Please read the following notice: <br> <br> Jay Bodzin is licensed to practice law in the State of Oregon and the Federal District of Oregon, and cannot give advice about the laws of other jurisdictions. All comments on this site are intended for informational purposes only, and do not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. No posts or comments on this site are in any way confidential. Each case is unique. You are advised to have counsel at all stages of any legal proceeding, and to speak with your own lawyer in private to get advice about your specific situation. <br> <br> Jay Bodzin, Northwest Law Office, 2075 SW First Avenue, Suite 2J, Portland, OR 97201 | Telephone: 503-227-0965 | Facsimile: 503-345-0926 | Email: | Online:

John Joseph Westerhaus

John Joseph Westerhaus


Fantastic answer.



Thank you! I am familiar with how an attorney office works and sincerely didn't expect anything for free. I know I can attempt to help my brother with a majority of the forms I have printed from the courthouse, but I feel more confident having someone who is familiar with the process to review them and ensure I have them done correctly. I'm just worried I'll do something wrong and want to ensure that my niece is protected in this whole process.


You said "He is a student and doesn't have the means to hire an attorney at full cost."

There is a huge gulf between "full cost" and "free" -- I'm sure there are attorneys out there who will offer services at a reduced rate or on a payment plan of sorts to accommodate his financial situation. I sometimes do this in Missouri.

But read Jay's answer, and then read it again -- it's fantastic.

I can be reached at (913) 735-9320. These answers do not constitute legal advice, because legal advice is paid for. These answers are, instead, practical suggestions for dealing with legal problems, and provided for informational purposes as a free public service. Any reliance thereupon is at your sole risk. Since suggestions to legal questions are usually fact-dependent; my answers are general and based on the facts as you describe them and necessarily includes assumptions. More specific answers can be provided only after researching the appropriate law and a comprehensive consultation in which all relevant facts are disclosed. The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely upon advertisements. Until both a retainer agreement is executed and we have a consultation, I am not your lawyer and you are not my client. Moreover, I cannot be your attorney unless you are located in Missouri, the only state in which I am licensed. If you are not in Missouri, please consult an attorney in your state for assistance, as my advice may be incorrect or incomplete.

Jay Bodzin

Jay Bodzin


Thank you =}

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