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Unbundled Legal Services?

Los Angeles, CA |

I am in the process of a divorce. I can handle all the paperwork myself I just need someone to go to court with me because my husbands lawyer is a shark. Can someone give me a heads up on how this process works. If the lawyer I hire only handles the court part of my case however does he or she know what to ask for the day we are in court. Does he/she spend some time before our court date reading on up on what has happened so far?

Also, anyone have a ball park figure on how much something like this costs? Do I just pay an hourly rate? What if I'm only in court 2-3 hours?

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Attorney answers 5


You recognize the problem with unbundled legal services. I believe most attorneys would not trust a client to prepare the “paperwork” for an appearance they were going to make if they had a choice. The paperwork, in most cases and particularly in family law, is very important. So, yes. An attorney would have to prepare for the appearance and would charge for the time to do that or for the time to prepare the paperwork in the first instance.

With respect to court appearances most attorneys have minimum time charges. For example, my minimum charge is 4 hours which usually corresponds to a morning or afternoon appearance. Full day charges would be 8-12 hours of time depending on whether further preparation is required. It would be customary, whether or not you are being charged for bundled or unbundled legal services, to make a fee deposit upon the attorney’s engagement.

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If you can find a lawyer that would just handle court appearances for you, any good lawyer would require time to prepare as well as the court appearance. He or she could not just show up for court. You would pay their hourly rate for the court time as well as the preparation time. Depending on the issue, preparation time could be one hour or ten hours. I would think most lawyers would hesitate to do this. If you prepare the papers wrong, the lawyer may not be able to represent you adequately and most lawyers would not want to take that risk.

Michael Schwerin, San Jose, California phone: 408-295-4232 email: Consultation fees, rates and retainers vary based on need and ability to pay.


Many people who cannot afford to retain an experienced family law attorney on a full service basis opt for what is called "limited scope representation." The advantage to this approach is that the attorney will only charge an hourly rate for work done on your case (i.e., preparation for, and appearance at, the court hearing). The disadvantage is that you do not necessarily get the benefit of full-service representation, which is always best if you can afford it.

Might I suggest that you hire an attorney on a consulting basis, to help you draft the paperwork as well as make the appearance for you? If you make mistakes in your pleadings or have not drafted a well thought out declaration or Points and Authorities, you are diminishing the attorney's ability to advocate for you at the time of the hearing. Thus, you'd just be wasting your money hiring a attorney just to stand next to you in court.

One of the most important things you are paying for when you retain counsel is their intellectual ability to strategize your case. Even though you know the facts of your case best, it is always best to couple that with legal knowledge and the experience of counsel.

Even if you hire an attorney for the court appearance, you must be prepared to pay for the time it takes to review the pleadings filed. No competent attorney would dare risk going into court unprepared--it is not worth it since one of the most important things we have as attorneys is our professional reputation with the judges and other members of the bar.

The other thing I forgot to mention is that you may be entitled to attorney's fees if there is a disparity in the relative income of the parties. If your husband has an attorney, then you should too. The law provides for the higher wage earner to pay a contribution of your attorney's fees if certain requirements are met. While you may need to come up with an initial retainer for your attorney, the court may grant you attorney's fees to level the playing field, so to speak.

I am including links below which you may find helpful. Good luck to you.

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That's the thing. prior to my husband filing to divorce he made $180k however a lot of that was overtime. Since the divorce he "claims" no OT is available which is BS so his income is no $80k. Since I am not working I am getting child and spousal support and my income is being imputed at min wage (I am a full time student). His lawyers claim that when you calculate my imputed income and child/spousal support as well as his "bills" there is only a disparity of about $300 a month. At our last court hearing the judge awarded $1200 in legal fee's however since I was already in the hole $9k in legal fee's my attorney added that to my outstanding balance then stepped down...oh and is now suing me for the balance. My husband on the other hand has racked up nearly $50k in attorney fee's according to is I&E sheet however his legal fee's are being paid from a "loan" from mommy and daddy. Is there any way I can level the playing field. I am going pro per now.


Time to prepare, appear and then finalize the order after hearing should be considered (you can pay hourly or a fixed fee per appearance) - but this is not the best process for you. You might save money, but it carries a good chance of costing you at the end of the day.


The answers previously posted are all correct: I would only add your money would be FAR better spent making sure you know all the ins and outs of your case and then have the unbundled attormey prepare you to make the appearances yourself.

Ms. Straus (aka Carroll) may be reached at 800-400-8978 during regular business hours, Pacific Time, or anytime by email at: All of Ms. Straus’ responses to questions posted on Avvo are intended as helpful information based upon the facts stated in the question, and are not to be relied upon as a final legal opinion. It may not be what you wished to hear, and it does not create an attorney-client relationship. Ms. Straus is licensed to practice law in California. If you would like to obtain specific legal advice about this issue, you must contact an attorney who is licensed to practice law in your state, and retain him or her. Me Straus provides “unbundled” services if you need specific assistance with a specific issue.

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