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”.
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.”
Getting an Order of Protection
The courts make it very easy for a person to get an Order of Protection against a spouse, former spouse, or intimate partner. This is good, in that it allows someone who feels in danger to get help without long delays or the need for professional help. This is in line with Arizona’s goal of allowing the people to be able to solve their own problems without incurring high legal costs. However, there is a downside to to the ease of being a “Pro Per” litigant (meaning, you represent yourself without an attorney).
The normal process of getting a court order is to make a request to the court in a Petition, which then leads to a hearing where the other party can answer, and give reasons why the petition should not be granted. The court then renders a decision based on what has been presented. The legal process of an Order of Protection (OOP) is a little different than the usual petition to the courts – and that can lead to some confusion for the Pro Per petitioner.
With an OOP, the requesting person fills out the petition, and the order is then granted automatically. However, the other party – the one whose behavior is being restricted, must be informed of the OOP, and given an opportunity to challenge it. If they challenge the OOP, then a hearing is set, and the petitioner must then convince the court to retain the OOP, and the responding party may present evidence for reasons not to grant.
This hearing will follow the usual rules of court procedure. You may represent yourself, but if you haven’t spent time in court, these rules and procedures can be difficult, and it’s a good idea to get representation before your hearing. A lawyer will make this go easier and a lot less scary for you – but that lawyer is going to be limited by what was in the petition you originally submitted. If that petition was written poorly, even a good lawyer may not be able to save your OOP, and you could have it dismissed.
So while you can Do It Yourself, it’s also a good idea to get professional help. The more important your legal issue is, the more you should think about getting an attorney to make sure it’s done right. With many legal cases, if you lose, you don’t get to try again.
Some lawyers will offer what is commonly called “unbundled services” – meaning that the lawyer is willing to do work on a portion of your case. This can include the drafting of your petition or motion, or just reviewing what you are going to submit to the courts, or even coaching you on representing yourself in a hearing.
A little guidance in the beginning can save you a lot of pain and grief later. Consider contacting an attorney for a review or some counseling. If the lawyer you used in the past doesn’t do unbundled – don’t be discouraged, there is always a right attorney for your needs. We’ll get you through it.
When you reach that point where you know you can’t get out of the financial hole on your own, you start looking for options. If you think Bankruptcy is the worst thing that can happen, you might look for other ways to get the debt under control. It’s easy to find companies that perform an array of services, including Debt Consolidation, Debt Management, and Debt Settlement. It’s not always clear what these are, so let’s go over them –
Debt Consolidation is where you take out a lower interest loan to pay off all the higher interest loans – turning many debts into one debt. This lowers your interest, but not the principal, and you are still making payments, and subject to collection efforts. In most cases, you are also paying a fee to the company that is buying your debt, in addition to paying the debt and the new interest to that same company.
Debt Settlement is getting creditors to accept less than the full amount. This is attractive, but it will be reported to the credit agency that you paid less, and this will have a negative effect on your credit rating. In most cases, you are paying a fee to the settlement company for their negotiation on your behalf.
Debt Management is where you agree to financial counselling, and a debt management company will negotiate with your creditors. You pay the debt manager, they pay your debts, and maybe along the way they can negotiate some better terms, or arrange for debt settlement. In most cases, you will pay a fee for these services, in addition to your payments to your creditors.
When facing pressure from creditors, you may think about one of these debt services as a less drastic measure compared to Bankruptcy. And while this may be a good option in some circumstances, it’s important to get the facts. First of all, understand what debt consolidation will NOT do.
You are not under any legal protection with a Debt Service Company. When you file for Bankruptcy, your creditors must stop all collection efforts. The Bankruptcy process protects the Debtor, and insures that all harassment stops, under civil penalty for any creditor who contacts you.
In Bankruptcy, your communications with your attorney are privileged. This means that anything that is said between you and your lawyer are private, and no one can break that confidentiality. You do NOT have this confidentiality with a debt service, and anyone you talk to with the debt service can be called to testify against you in court.
Consolidation does not eliminate your debt, and neither does Settlement. In most cases, the debt service will ease your monthly burden – either by reducing the principal or the interest. That sounds good, but it will still appear on your credit report if the full amount was not paid, which will hurt your credit score. Reducing the interest is a good thing, particularly if you were holding some debt at maximum penalty rates – but this still doesn’t relieve you of the debt.
Bankruptcy sounds like the worst option – but it’s a widely misunderstood legal action. Bankruptcy puts the power of the law on your side, and protects you. Bankruptcy attorneys are your advocates, and they fight for you, while you concentrate on rebuilding. In most cases, a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy will eliminate a lot of your debt. If there are debts that cannot be discharged, the reorganization process will give you an opportunity to structure a better payment plan on the remaining debt. After a Bankruptcy, you can still use a Debt Service to work through the remaining debts.
I realize that Bankruptcy is a drastic measure – but if you are in real financial trouble, drastic measures will yield real results. You will have most or all of your revolving credit debt discharged (there are exceptions to dischargeability, please consult an attorney), and you will have a fresh start. Your credit score will improve, and you can start rebuilding your financial foundation. If you are worried about how the Bankruptcy will affect your credit score – remember that debts that have gone into collections will remain on your credit report for years, but getting those debts eliminated through a Bankruptcy makes you more credit worthy – as it is more likely you can pay off a new loan (and you can’t declare Chapter 7 Bankruptcy again for 8 years). Debt consolidation is a half-solution at best – you will still be in debt, and your credit score will not improve – you just change who you pay each month.
Talk to a Bankruptcy lawyer, and get the facts. Lawyers are required by law and the ethics of the profession to tell you the truth about the law, and your rights. Lawyers are trained and licensed by the state to insure that clients understand their situation – this is not true for debt consolidation. After consulting an attorney, if you still want to seek consolidation, you will be smarter about the options, and better equipped to make the right decision. Contact me at Potter Law Firm. “We’ll get you through it.”