As I said before, legal problems are like car trouble and dental work – you can put it off, but the costs will only go up the longer you avoid it. In the months since I wrote the first part of this blog post, I’ve come across a few people who needed legal advice long before they called me. One client believed she couldn’t afford a lawyer, until she was hit with a judgment of more than three times her gross annual income. I’m working on an appeal on that case, but it’s going to be a lot harder to undo the problem, than to have stopped it before it was signed by a Judge.
Trouble is expensive – whether it’s car trouble, health trouble, or legal trouble, it’s going to cost you. Knowing how expensive it is, and knowing how little you have in the bank for such emergencies, makes most reasonable people want to hide under the blankets and hope it goes away. Most of the time, the trouble doesn’t go away – it usually gets worse. It can be a toothache, a funny rattle under the hood, or process server handing you papers; you know it’s going to be an expensive problem.
The median hourly rate for an attorney in Arizona is $255 per hour. Just knowing this is enough to discourage a lot of people from even picking up the phone for a free consultation. And then there is the advance deposit, which could be more than a year’s worth of discretionary income. Some matters can be dealt with using a contingency fee arrangement (where the payment is made only after the case is resolved), but this is only available in some areas of law. Family law and criminal matters cannot be paid for on contingency. If you do make it through the consult, the payment options may leave you feeling that legal help is out of your range. You do have options – maybe more than you think.
If you are indigent, living below the poverty line, then there are legal aid organizations that can help you. But these groups rely on state funding, and are seeing their budgets reduced every year – which makes it hard to qualify if you are only *somewhat* desperate. But what about people who are working, and just aren’t making that much money? Well, since wages have been stagnant for my entire adult life, this is a common situation. You have different options, depending on where you are on the income scale.
The Working Poor – those people who are not homeless, but make under 250% of the federal poverty guidelines, can qualify for the Modest Means project. 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.
After the hour consult, the attorney may offer to take on your case. If the attorney makes this offer, the representation will continue at the modest means rate ($75/hr, here in Arizona). Not every lawyer will make the offer, but there’s no harm in asking. At the very least, you can ask for another 1-hour consult later on.
Modest Means is just one way that your local state bar and legal education organization are trying to bring good legal counsel within reach of working families. And you may be surprised by the caliber of professional you are getting for this low price. Many experienced lawyers are a part of Modest Means – it’s a way to give back and to promote better access to the law.
If you don’t qualify for Modest Means, or if your state doesn’t have such a program, what do you do? There are still ways to get legal assistance in solving your problems – and dealing with trouble is a better plan than hiding under the covers. More strategies for getting good advice for less will continue in the next post.
-Trail Potter, Esq.
2015 Federal Poverty Guidelines: http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/15poverty.cfm
Arizona Modest Means Project: http://www.azflse.org/modestmeans/
You think a will is for the wealthy: people with houses and cars and investment accounts. You’d be surprised how many of those people still don’t have wills because they don’t think they are quite wealthy enough – or more likely, aren’t thinking about their death at all. The truth is, people of modest means need the will the most. I’ll explain that later – first, I still need to convince you that you need a will.
If you’ve worked at any permanent job, you may have some kind of retirement account, even if it’s small. You have a bank account, maybe even a credit card. You could also inherit something from your family at any point in the future. You also have stuff, and some of it is valuable to someone, whether it’s worth money, or if it’s just something they want to remember you by. These are all reasons to have a will – even a simple will can avoid the very real possibility it will all be lost. I’ll explain why – but you still don’t think you need a will.
But even without all that stuff (a house, investment accounts, collectibles), you have more than you think.
You have a facebook account? Or emails? Some kind of cloud-based drive for storing documents or pictures? Still on myspace or friendster? Did you make some videos and upload them to youtube? Blog Posts? Writings, messages, your status as moderator of reddit? This is your digital life – or as we think of it, your intellectual property. Yes, all of the words and pictures and videos and messages are part of your estate – and if you don’t deal with it now, it’s going to be a terrible nightmare for the people left behind. This includes everything on your smartphone, too.
Do you want your mom to have all this access? Every Account? The law hasn’t settled this yet – some websites don’t allow a transfer of ownership at all. We aren’t quite sure what will happen to your account after you die. You need to designate a digital executor – someone you name to carry out your wishes – and have a plan for giving this person access to your online life. This will not happen automatically, because the law hasn’t figured this out yet. Banks and property holders know what to do for an executor with a court order because these institutions have been around for centuries – but facebook is still working out their own policies regarding the grant of access for next of kin. The NSA demands for emails and postings didn’t help open up social media to cooperating with courts, either.
The old joke – “When I Die, Delete My Browser History” – well that may not be a bad idea. But if you don’t set that up ahead of time, your browser history, selfies, those pics you send on snapchat, will all be found by a next-of-kin, maybe a sibling or parent. I’m not implying that everyone has a secret life on message boards or camming for extra money – but your digital life is complex, and if you don’t make a plan for who is going to handle it, you leave a lot to chance.
This is all part of a will. It’s not just a document that says where the money goes – it’s all your last instructions, what you want done, how you want to be memorialized, etc. Trust me; it’s going to make life easier for the people who love you.
Having grown up in a blended family myself with step and half siblings from both my parents, as well as the blended family I created with my wife, I personally understand the wide variety of complex challenges families face. Items such as wills and trusts, adoption, guardianships, property issues, investigations by CPS, being sued as well as the need for Divorce and Custody/Child Support litigation. Having a professional guide you through the legal process will help keep the pressure from negatively affecting your work, your relationships, and your family. My tag line, “We’ll get you through it,” is my commitment to my clients.
I have long been an ally of the Marriage Equality fight and celebrated the fall of DOMA with my many friends. Not everyone fits into the neat little molds created by the majority. I believe that justice and the protection of law applies to everyone. If your family is just a little outside the box, or maybe your lifestyle requires a special understanding, you have a friend in the law field with me, Trail Potter.
Utilizing my negotiation skills from national competitions in both undergrad and law school, I apply those skills to conflicts and problems that affect families and individuals who may become overwhelmed by legal problems. While at South Texas College of Law, I became a Certified Mediator. Legal judgments can have lifetime consequences, so select a lawyer who will explain all the options available.
I use a holistic approach to the valuation of legal services through a careful balance of necessary costs and unbundled legal services. Free 30 minute consultation is just a phone call away to assess your case and provide basic options.
We here at the Potter Law Firm wish to congratulate the newly married couples who can finally enjoy what the Supreme Court called a Fundamental Right, way back in Loving v. Virginia, 1967. Trail Potter has been an Ally of the Marriage Equality fight since Hawaii first allowed same sex marriage, and we celebrated the fall of DOMA with our friends. We wish you all the best and we are happy to see you share in what so many of us have taken for granted for so long. Have amazing weddings here in Arizona – as always, we’ll get you through it.
Family Structures are Complex, and require Flexible Conflict Solutions
Often, a divorcing couple is only aware of one way to end the marriage: going to Trial. Faced with the time and expense of Litigation, many couples will choose to take the matter into their own hands, downloading the forms found online, or using the services of a Document Preparer. However, there are other options that provide more legal guidance while still controlling costs and letting parties control the un-coupling process.
Divorcing couples can select a mediator to assist with negotiating a settlement. A good mediator is trained to focus the negotiations on the divorcing couple’s core interests, while keep the expectations realistic. However, the Mediator is neutral, and does not provide legal advice to one party against the other.
Courts will often order Mediation – but you can choose to Mediate without court involvement, and select the Mediator who is right for you. Arizona does NOT license Mediators, so inquire about your Mediators experience and training. A good divorce Mediator will be knowledgeable in Family Law and Interest Based Negotiation.
Collaborative Law Practice
The newest innovation in Divorce Law is the Collaborative approach, where both spouses are represented by their own attorney, but all sides commit to a cooperative process, resulting in a custom divorce agreement that suits their needs. The process is confidential, faster, and costs are kept down by reducing litigation expenses.