So you have had a consultation with an attorney, you have identified your issues, and now you’re ready to hire a non-attorney to prepare your legal documents. What are the questions you should ask before hiring someone?
Is this person a court certified legal document preparer?
Anyone who charges you money to prepare your legal matter must either be a licensed attorney or court certified legal document preparer. In addition, they must put their name and certification number on all of your legal documents. If they do not, they are probably hiding something; more than likely the fact that they are preparing your documents illegally.
What is their price, and is it clearly stated in writing?
It is extremely important to understand what you will be charged, and that these fees are clearly stated and in writing. In addition, you should understand what other costs are involved in your case such as court filing fees and third party service costs as these can often be quite high. Imagine the following:
You find someone who says they will do your uncontested divorce for $200. You give them the money and they prepare your initial papers. You think to yourself, “Great, I can afford this!”
When you go file your case you find out that the clerk of the court is going to charge you $350 to open your case.
You go back to the document preparer’s office and they charge you another $100 for giving it to a ‘guy they know’ who will serve the documents on your spouse. By this time your bank account is beginning to look positively empty, but you push on.
Twenty days later you go to the document preparer to have them prepare your default application and final orders. The document preparer smiles and says, “Excellent, that will only be another $500.”
What you initially thought was only going to cost your $200 eventually ended up costing you $1,150.
Do they over promise or guarantee success?
The cold, hard fact is that there are no guarantees in a legal case (especially in a family law case). Anyone who claims to know the outcome beforehand is either lying or does not really know what they are talking about. That may sound harsh, but it’s true. An experienced attorney may have a good guess on how a case will turn out, but even the best attorney only deals in probabilities.
A legal document preparer who guarantees that they will get you sole custody of the kids, or a certain amount of alimony, etc., is at best not dealing with you honestly, and at worst is probably engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.