How ANYONE Can Afford A Lawyer
by Wes Cowell, updated 23 April 2016 -- suggest a correction
To keep costs down, Illinois lawyers may ghost-write papers, coach litigants from the sidelines, or represent a client in only those issues designated by the client. If you have to go to court but need to save money, call me — I offer "out-of-court-legal-services" and "unbundled services," and can help you get it done…on a budget. To learn more, call, leave your info, or schedule a consult.
Out-of-Court-Legal-Services — starting at $250: It used to be that lawyers couldn't coach litigants from the sidelines nor ghost-write papers. If a lawyer was going to advise a litigant, the lawyer had to file an "Appearance" in the case. If a litigant showed up in court with ghost-written papers, the judge would demand the name of the attorney who prepared the documents and include that lawyer as part of the official record.
Thanks to a new Supreme Court rule, however, Illinois lawyers no longer need to file an Appearance with the court just to help litigants do their own case. Lawyers can coach pro se litigants from the sidelines. Lawyers may ghost-write pleadings and settlement papers for pro se litigants. That keeps the lawyers out of court, ensures the case is resolved properly, and minimizes the costs of the legal process.
"Unbundled" Legal Services: It used to be that if you hired a lawyer to represent you in a matter, that lawyer (by law) had to represent you in every aspect of that matter. The lawyer couldn't go into divorce court and say "Judge, my client wants me only to divide the property, and they'll sort through the custody, support, and parenting schedules on their own."
Thanks to a change in Supreme Court Rules, however, clients may now designate which issues they want the lawyer to handle and which issues they'll resolve themselves. For example, you may be able to resolve the property and retirement division issues, but need help creating a parenting plan and restricting the other parent's ability to relocate with the children. In such a case, I can address ONLY the parenting plan / relocation issues. You can keep control of all other aspects of your case. That keeps you in control of how much work I can do . . . and that keeps you in control of costs.
Hybrid Services: Clients sometimes hire me to handle a specific issue in their case (say, property division) and try to do their own parenting agreement. They might need a little extra out-of-court help with the parenting plan, however, and some legal advice and guidance. So, they hire me to address the property division in court and they pay a little more for out-of-court advice and guidance on, and ghost-written papers for, the parenting plan. Easy-peasy . . . and very affordable.
Fee Shifting: Illinois law allows one party's legal fees to be shifted to the other party. If you cannot afford a lawyer and your spouse has enough money to pay for both lawyers, the court can shift your fees to the other party. TO get started, gather whatever information you can to document the other party's income (copies of paystubs and tax returns) and assets (copies of bank statements) and call my office.
Disgorgement: If you cannot afford a lawyer and the other party claims s/he cannot afford to pay both lawyers, the court has the power to divide the retainer received by the other party's attorney. The practice is called "disgorgement."
Advance Payment Retainer Can't Protect Funds: In the past, some lawyers have tried to use "advance payment retainer agreements" to shield themselves and disadvantage opposing parties. In IRMO Earlywine 2013 IL 114779 (2013), however, the Illinois Supreme Court said it doesn't matter what type of Retainer Agreement the attorney uses (Advance Payment or Security) -- under 750 ILCS 5/501(c-1)(3), the court may disgorge fees and the type of Retainer Agreement is irrelevant.
"Already Earned Fees" are not Protected: Another argument sometimes made is that the funds in the paying client's retainer are no longer "available" -- the law firm has already done the work and earned the funds. In IRMO Squire (2015 IL App (2d) 150271), Michael filed for divorce in 2013. The couple didn't have much eir expenses exceeded Michael's six-figure income. Catherine was unemployed. MIchael hired a lawyer for $2,500. Catherine borrowed $130,000 from her mom, paid her first lawyer $10,000, and paid her second lawyer $120,000. In June, 2014, Michael's lawyer asked for a share of the money Catherine had paid to her lawyers. Catherine's lawyer said: But I've already done the work, earned the fee, and have been paid. There's no retainer left to be shared -- it's all MINE, now. THe court said it didn't matter, the money for attorneys had to be shared just the same. Catherine's lawyer had to fork over $60,000. In re: Marriage of Squire, 2015 IL App (2d) 150271.
Borrowed Retainer Funds are Not Protected: In both Earlywine and Squire, the source of the retainer funds was not the client/party nor the marital estate. Instead, the party had to borrow money from a relative to hire a lawyer. Once the money is paid to the lawyer, it source doesn't matter -- it's fair game for disgourgement.
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