(We love Gabriel. He is a true innovator in the legal space. He doesn’t talk about what others should do. In his firm(s) he sees a problem in the delivery of legal services in his practice area and he fixes it. Then he shares what he’s done to help his firm(s) grow. Being a client-centric innovator, it always involves making his clients’ lives easier. And it’s a 100% win for all involved – our favorite business model.)
Over 90% of litigants in Family Court are unrepresented, pro se litigants. Since the Great Recession, many lawyers have hung out their own shingle but haven’t been able to fully make ends meet. The courts are underfunded and overloaded with cases. Non-profit legal service agencies are also underfunded and overworked while many seeking their services are either turned away or on a long waiting list.
Those are the undisputed facts. How do we help? The answer depends on who you ask. If you ask the courts, the answer would be more funding is needed and more pro bono attorneys are required. If you ask the law schools, they’ll recommend a study on it and training new lawyers to do more pro bono work. If you ask the bar associations, they’ll form a commission on it and ask lawyers to do more pro bono work.
I saw an inherent issue in asking lawyers that are having a hard time to make ends meet, devote more of their time to do work that doesn’t pay. I also saw that relying on more free legal services was not the answer because their business model is always anti-cyclical. When their services are needed the most (when the economy is bad), their funding dries up (because the economy is bad).
I formed my new law firm, Cambridge Divorce Group, because I wanted to bring unrepresented litigants together with attorneys who are willing to do the work for a low fee. Most of the these pro se litigants make too much money to qualify for free legal services but don’t make enough to hire a full time attorney. It doesn’t mean they don’t want a lawyer or that they can’t afford a small piece of a lawyer’s time.
What’s unique about Cambridge Divorce Group is that we’re combining Reduced Fees with unbundled legal services (or Limited Assistance Representation). We’re keeping our costs low by having contract lawyers come together instead of employing full time attorneys and in doing so, we’re able to reduce our fees to a fraction of what lawyers usually charge. At $125/hr combined with unbundled (or limited scope) legal services, litigants who want just a little bit of legal help can now have access to a lawyer and pay for only what they need and what they can afford.
This new legal business model helps litigants, attorneys, and the courts. The courts appreciate that an attorney is there to move the case along and help with negotiations and settlement. The attorneys are happy that they’re billing something rather than nothing. And litigants are happy that they can get the legal help that they need.
Perhaps some attorney might question if this is simply a race to the bottom in terms of legal fees. My answer to that is no. I own two separate law firms and the other one is a full service, full fee law firm. The 90% of litigants who are pro se would never have retained a full service law firm. Cambridge Divorce Group is simply servicing the needs of an underserved community.
All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.