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Access to Justice – What about the 80%?

Are you part of the 80%? You make too much income to qualify for free legal aid but not nearly enough to afford a high priced attorney. If this describes you, then welcome, you are part of the vast majority who need what we in the legal community calls, “Access to Justice”. Full length of young men and women holding cellphone

Modest Means

Modest Means isn’t in every state, but it’s a widely available resource. If your income qualifies (that’s an annual income of $60,624 for a family of four), you can get a low price, one-hour consult with an attorney practicing in the area you need. In Arizona, that one hour costs only $75. If you are prepared, have done your research, and have your questions ready, you can get a lot out of an hour with an attorney. The consult is usually done at the lawyers office, so you are just like any other client, getting that same level of counsel for your troubles. Many experienced lawyers are a part of Modest Means – it’s a way to give back and to promote better access to the law.

Unbundled services (aka Limited Scope)

To save some money (if you have the time to devote to it), you can take on some of these jobs, and reserve the attorney work for the things you cannot do. If your attorney is open to an unbundled services arrangement, be realistic about what you can handle, and what you need the attorney to do. If you are going to use the lawyer to consult with as you prepare to represent yourself, do the homework and be prepared to use the consulting time well. If you want to do the pre-trial work yourself, be careful, you can lose a case before you ever see a trial if you don’t meet all the deadlines. Litigation is complex, but with guidance, you can take on some of the tasks, and save a lot of money.

Flat fee services

There are legal services that it makes sense to offer a flat fee. Simple wills, default divorce, Chapter 7 bankruptcy, contract review, and the ever effective Scary Lawyer Letter. Each of these services are usually a one-time shot or on an as-needed basis. Remember that flat fee services are only available in situations where there is a clear end point. Court conflicts can go on as long as the other side wants to fight.

Sliding scale hourly rate

There are many reasons why an attorney will take less than their standard hourly rate on a case. Maybe your legal issue is something they are passionate about. Or maybe your case holds a particular interest. Sometimes an attorney will discount your rate because you are a referral from a previous client. The possibilities are endless but you will never know that if you don’t ask. Just because an attorney quotes a standard hourly rate, it doesn’t mean that is the last word on the matter. Attorneys are people too.

I believe in Access to Justice and serve the 80%. Contact PotterLawAZ.com “We’ll get you through it.”

Exercising your right to start over: Bankruptcy.

What do you think of, when you think of the Constitution? Freedom of speech? Right to Bear Arms? Unlawful Search and Seizure? None of these are in the Constitution – they were added later, in the Bill of Rights.

Constitution (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 4)

Constitution (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 4)

But you know what IS in the original draft? The right to Bankruptcy. Article I, section 8, Oversight of Bankruptcy is a required duty of Congress. The ability to start over, with a financial clean slate was so important, it was in the original draft – before freedom of speech, before the right to bear arms, before the guarantee of a jury trial, the framers made sure you could declare bankruptcy. Please keep that in mind.

You have a right to get the protection of the court against your creditors. In a lot of situations, you can have your debts eliminated, and you will have an opportunity to renegotiate the repayment, and at least get a break from the harassment. With so much debt collection abuse – why don’t more people take advantage of the Bankruptcy process? Yes, it’s complicated, but not more difficult than most other legal procedures. I think it’s the stigma – the shame of having to surrender, or the feeling that you have failed in your obligation by not repaying the debt.

If you are avoiding the phone because of creditors, you may be able to get some help before the holidays. The process was established in this Nation by the Founders; it is your absolute right. This
process may be the way you can start over, get a grip on your finances, or just give you some room to negotiate. Your creditors know you can get protection from the court, so they aren’t going to make deals with you until you do.

Here’s some insight on Creditors:

  1. High Interest Rates are the reward the lender gets for taking the risk that you will default. If you were guaranteed not to default, your interest rate would be tiny – like the kind of interest you get on a Treasury Note or US Savings Bond. High Interest means that they assume some are going to default, so they are getting their piece with every interest payment.
  2. Your Credit Score is a very complex calculation, and it takes into consideration what kind of debts you have, and what abankruptcy-sign-postssets you have. If you have a lot of debt that can be discharged in a bankruptcy, and you don’t have substantial assets (like a house, or investments), then you are a candidate for an easy Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The system then ASSUMES you are going to file for a Chapter 7, and it’s the reason your score is so low. The credit reporting agency is telling potential lenders that you will likely file, and once you do file, your score will go up.
  3. Bankruptcy will do a lot to protect you, but it’s still going to change your life. If you are still paying on a car loan, you may be able to get out of the loan – but you will likely lose the car. Yes, it gets rid of the debt, but if that debt has collateral, like a lien on the car title, you could lose that asset. There are ways to keep the car – so this isn’t an absolute rule, but you need to know how to keep the asset, and plan for it.
  4. Chapter 7 is a cleaner way to do it, as it will wipe out many different kinds of debt, but you can only do this once every 8 years. So if you declared a chapter 7 a few years ago, and disaster struck again, you can still file for Chapter 13. This is a much more complex process, and it’s going to cost more to do it – but if you have been backed into a corner again, it’s an option you can exercise.
  5. When you file for Bankruptcy, the creditors have to stop their collection efforts, and deal with your attorney.

If you are in the Greater Phoenix area, the Potter Law Firm may be able to help you. “We’ll get you through it.”

“We are a debt relief agency. We help people file for bankruptcy relied under the bankruptcy code.”

Access to Justice

(Why I will do a default divorce for less than $1000)

strategic_framework legal

At the State Bar Convention this last summer, we had a session on the high cost of lawsuits, ability to retain lawyers, and the general problem that lawyers are available to the rich and the poor – but not the vast majority who fit in between those two stations. Within the legal community, we call this “Access to Justice”, and it’s a serious problem.

Approximately 14% of the residents of Maricopa County can qualify for free legal aid. This is a little higher than the rest of the country, as parts of the metro area are still in recovery from the economic crash. On the other end of the spectrum, only 5% of the people can afford to pay an attorney the average hourly rate of $250/hr, without going into debt.  This leaves 80% of the people of this county, stuck with few options for getting legal help: they can represent themselves without help and risk making a serious mistake in court, or they can go into debt and possible bankruptcy by hiring a lawyer.  As a Family Law Attorney, I know the risks of representing yourself, particularly when the other side has a lawyer working for them. But if I’m asking for a $5000 retainer up-front, only 5% of the population are going to benefit from my counsel without going into debt, even if this could be a simple default matter.

A lot of people seeking legal help will then turn to a Document Preparer to help with their divorce paperwork. While many of these services will get your divorce completed, they are not permitted to give out any legal advice about what you should do. A default divorce between two people with no children is a relatively simple task – if you know what you are doing. If you DO NOT know what you are doing, you can leave yourself in a very bad position as far as your property rights and taxes go. If there are children, it gets more complex, and if you fail to consider all of the rights and responsibilities, it makes co-parenting a much harder job. These are issues that are more about getting help making decisions, based on your rights and responsibilities – this is Legal Advice, and you need it. You need to talk to a Lawyer, before things get complicated.

I have written other articles about how there are ways to keep these costs down, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. We, as Lawyers, must be a part of the solution to the problem of access to justice.  This is why my services in default family matters is priced at the same amount as Doc Preppers charge. Everyone going through a divorce needs some advice, and Lawyers have a responsibility to assist the 80% in the middle, even if it’s just through consultation rather than full representation.

As attorneys, it’s time we take a look at our prices. Not all matters are the same, and we shouldn’t be stuck on a fixed rate for everything. Many other professions use a sliding scale, and alter their bill rate based on what the client is capable of paying. We have a responsibility to the public at large to promote justice and a more civil society. A big part of that responsibility, is making sure that more people can talk to lawyers without fear of big bills.

I believe in Access to Justice. The Potter Law Firm will get you through it.

Client Testimonials

We know that word-of-mouth and referrals are the BEST types of advertising for small businesses/professional services. We sincerely appreciate each client testimonial from the past few months.

“I still can’t believe how well we lucked out with our referral to Potter Law Firm. My only regret is that we didn’t hire him sooner! Mr. Potter’s concern for our family is reflected in both in his words and his actions. He has navigated our case through the court system at a pace I didn’t think was possible, and I couldn’t be happier with the results. I’m fairly certain we’ll be keeping Mr. Potter on a retainer until our daughter is eighteen (and while that is a depressingthought, I am infinitely less stressed about the prospect, knowing we have Potter Law Firm on our side).” Jessie C. 8/19/15

“I am pleased with the outcome in the hearing yesterday and it gives me hope that this will be settled soon. Thank you for your time and support. You have really changed my outlook of the court system and attorneys in whole. I wish all attorneys had your mindset, Mr. Potter. You and Lisa make a great team and I appreciate all of your help.” – Veronica H. 8/18/15

“I wasn’t sure what type of law Mr. Potter practices but asked him questions related to my PI case. I discovered that although he doesn’t actively handle PI cases, he helped connect me with a Personal Injury Expert who answered all of my questions and gave me sound advice. Thank you for helping me and getting back so quickly, Mr. Potter. I really appreciate it.” – Vani P. 8/15/15

A Modest Means Project Client Testimonial: “First we would like to thank you so very much for meeting with us. On such short notice to top it off. We felt very comfortable and not rushed at all. Thank you for listening and giving us the best advice we have received.” Ashley C. 7/24/15

“Mr. Potter did a wonderful job handling my divorce case even with coming in the middle of it. He and his team picked things up like they had been on board from day one, and got things moving in the right direction. They are very professional and yet friendly when dealing with such an emotional process. They made sure I understood my options every step of the way and kept me up to date on what was going on with my case. I highly recommend Potter Law Firm for any family law case.” – Rob G. 7/15/15

“Mr. Potter is an amazing attorney. I am currently utilizing him as a lawyer in a court case I have going on right now. Mr. Potter takes time out to explain, walk through, and describe how everything in my case is going. His rates are extremely affordable and I feel like he really cares about my children and I. He is extremely reliable and knowledgeable about many different aspects of how the court system in Arizona works. If I ever have any questions or concerns, Mr. Potter is able to explain what is happening so I understand it. I wouldn’t hire anyone else to represent me in family court.” – Jessica B. 7/13/15

“Known Mr Potter for many years. As i finish with my military career and return to Arizona he will be my attorney of choice for all my legal needs.” – Mike R. 6/30/15

The Potter Law Firm brings access to justice for regular people. We know that 80% of people think they cannot afford quality legal representation and then get stomped in Family and Civil court going Pro Se (self represented). At Potter Law Firm, Trail Potter, is a hard-working, sincere Attorney who is serious about fair legal remedies. Whether collaborative, mediation, litigation or simply unbundled legal advice, “We’ll get you through it.” – Lisa P. 6/21/15

DANGER! False Reporting to DCS

Before I began a sole practice in earnest, I worked a contract for the Arizona Dept. of Child Safety – more often known by their former letters: CPS. It’s close to the IRS for most maligned state agency (although the National Security Agency is trying), and like the IRS, it’s a necessity. I still don’t know the inner workings of the tax collectors, but my 9 months inside DCS gave me an insight to how the agency works, and the people who do a very hard and often thankless job. I’ve also had a view of the failings and flaws in their work. Now that my work there is done, I want to address a rare but dangerous problem: false reporting.

DCS exists to protect children from dangerous environments created directly by, or due to the neglect of, the parents or guardians of the child. This power to take a child away from the parents is in constant tension with the parents rights over and to their own child. No one is happy to have a government official take away anything of theirs, but to take away a child leaves parents scared and desperate. Often, these are temporary custody situations, where the child is placed with a relative guardian while the danger is assessed, and often returned to the parents. Many times, this danger is from drugs, and DCS provides rehab, counseling, and resources for parents who need help.

Let me assure you – there are very dangerous situations for children in the city of Phoenix, and there are parents whose behavior would terrify you. The people inside DCS all know how bad it can be – and whenever a child dies while under DCS investigation, every single employee of the agency is sent an email of what happened. It’s a constant reminder of what is at stake. Yet with so much riding on this, DCS budgets are always on the chopping block – case managers and parent aids are stretched thin and over-worked.  Our new governor, Doug Ducey, has promised to cut the budgets further, leaving more children in danger, and fewer investigators to work on cases.

Although it is rare, sometimes these investigations are triggered by one of the parents against the other parent, during or after divorce, without a legitimate basis. The intent is often to use a DCS case to influence a custody outcome in family court – to move the ball closer to the goal. Sometimes this is done after a divorce, as part of a strategy to petition the court for a change in custody – and other times it’s done while a divorce is pending.

I’ve spent time preparing court documents in these cases, and it doesn’t work. A report can trigger an investigation, but the process will uncover a false report over substantial danger to a child. This discovery will be reported to the judge and any court appointed advisors in the family law case – in other words, it’s going to cause a lot of pain, expense, trauma for the entire family, and will mostly likely backfire. Filing a false report with DCS is a Class 1 misdemeanor and is punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-707, 13-802.) I’ve seen this happen.

The greater tragedy is that each false report takes attention away from real danger to children in frightening circumstances. As resources are stretched thin, the time it takes to uncover a false report drains the time and budget that should be used on cases where there is an ongoing danger to the child’s physical or emotional well being. DCS is there for the children of this state, not to be a used as a tool for parents working out their anger. Additionally, a DCS investigation won’t just stop once it’s been started, so the children will also be dealing with investigations, examinations, case workers asking them a lot of questions, and you ultimately run the risk of having the child removed from both parents, and placed into foster care.

If you are in a divorce, or have an existing custody agreement, and you have problems with the other parent – how they live or who they live with – there are other options. Mediation is a way parents can work through problems without court involvement. Private mediators can find resolutions for a lower cost than court involvement, and they can do it faster – which saves in the emotional costs to you and the children. Look into mediation before doing something you may regret. Think twice before filing a false report with DCS.

REMINDER: Mediators are NOT certified in Arizona – so ask about your mediator’s background and training. Are they knowledgeable in child issues? Are they a licensed attorney? Do they have a behavioral health background? Some conflicts are more about legal issues, and some are more about the psychology of the parents – so choose the right mediator for the problem. I am a Texas certified mediator with a high resolution rate in both civil and family matters. Contact the Potter Law Firm, we can help.

-Trail T. Potter, Esq.