Q. I heard about clients being able to hire a lawyer on a limited assistance basis. I understood that to mean I could ask the lawyer to do certain things, but that I could, if I wanted to, directly deal with my husband’s lawyer, meaning I could correspond directly with my husband’s lawyer.
The lawyer I consulted refused to represent me this way. I suggested we use a collaborative approach that – if we had a contested court case – neither lawyer could represent us. My lawyer told me I was being stupid.
Despite feeling offended, I must be missing something here. What’s stupid about limited assistance or collaborative law?
A. Lots of lawyers are not willing to do limited assistance representation, and many do not do collaborative law.
Typically with LAR, you hire the lawyer for a particular task. For example, if you are worried about the initial motion for temporary orders for parenting time and support, you ask the LAR to prepare only those documents and represent you just at that hearing. After, you can take over on things like asking your husband to produce documents. But if need be, you can re-engage the LAR attorney to help you at a pretrial conference or, if no settlement is reached, at a trial.
Asking to essentially act as co-counsel with your LAR attorney is unusual. Your husband’s lawyer won’t know which of you will be responding. So something, particularly something time-sensitive, could slip through a crack in the plan. It’s not surprising your lawyer declined to be part of that plan.
Collaborative law starts with both parties signing agreements that the Collaborative lawyer will not litigate for either of them. So, if you don’t settle some things, you’ll have paid the Collaborative lawyer and also need to hire and pay a new lawyer to review everything in order to represent you in court. Collaborative lawyers believe their way is best because everyone is highly committed to settlement and use of resources – such as mental health professionals and financial planners, to reach an agreement.
Guess what? All divorce lawyers work hard to settle cases and – when necessary – use those other professionals. The difference is: if you don’t settle, you don’t need to hire a new lawyer. But if you use the collaborative law process, you’ll need a new lawyer. Here’s the catch. Many people feel trapped because they don’t have the money to hire a new lawyer and start over. So they settle on bad terms. And, some collaborative lawyers believe any settlement is better than going to court.
If you believe your husband won’t be reasonable, you might be fighting him and the collaborative lawyers. Sometimes when you come to the fork in the road, its best to take the well-traveled path. Experienced divorce lawyers settle more than 95 percent of their cases because they know when to settle and, if need be, how to try the case.