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Legal Coaches: Getting Affordable Help From Lawyers
by Paul Bergman and Sara Berman-Barrett
Copyright © 1993 Nolo Press
Even if it does not make economic sense for you to turn your entire case
over to an attorney, consulting a lawyer along the way may be a big
help. You may
want to hire one on an hourly basis as a legal coach to give you
advice, but not to actually represent you. Instead of turning your case
the lawyer, you pay--usually by the hour--for limited help and advice.
arrangement can be an affordable way to get the help you need.
Your legal coach may simplify your legal research, suggest evidence you
look for to prove your legal claims, explain a confusing rule of
you of deadlines, alert you to courtroom procedures peculiar to your
system or suggest ways of making your arguments more persuasive.
Traditionally, attorneys have either taken on overall responsibility for
client's case or declined to get involved. And many lawyers will not go
legal coach arrangement, because they do not want to get involved in
see as the messy world of self-representation or risk being legally
liable if you
make a mistake.
However, these days, many lawyers need work. And lots of lawyers are
to the fact that the average person cannot afford full-service
many lawsuits, given that lawyers' fees can run upwards of $25,000 in
Why Consult a Lawyer?
A lawyer acting as a legal coach can help you in several important
To Confirm That You Have a Good Claim or Defense
Not every wrong amounts to a valid legal claim that is worth pursuing in
For instance, if a home appliance breaks, explodes and burns your hand,
painful injuries that require medical treatment, you likely have a good
against the product's manufacturer and the store where you bought it.
But if the
appliance breaks after its warranty has expired and does not do any
anyone or anything, you may be inconvenienced but do not have grounds to
To Find Out the Law That Applies in Your Case
To determine what evidence to look for and eventually present in court,
know what law controls your case. You can research this on your own, but
likely to be more difficult for you, a non-expert, than for an
To Assist With Preparing Documents
Your legal coach may be able to help you make sure any legal document
is correct, logical and persuasive. A legal coach can help you draft or
to the initial pleadings--the complaint or answer--or check pleadings
To File and Serve Legal Documents
Legal documents often have to be written in certain ways--sometimes even
specific kind of paper--and filed and served according to detailed
legal coach, or assistants in his or her office such as paralegals or
secretaries, may be able to assist you a great deal by typing court
into final form and filing and serving them on your opponent for you.
To Answer Questions Along the Way
Ultimately, what to say and do at trial will be your judgment call. But
and trying a case necessarily involves maneuvering within a complex and
impersonal system. You not only need to understand legal rules, but also
them into a winning strategy--a strategy you will typically have to
your adversary reacts to your actions. It can help you a lot to run your
plans by an experienced lawyer. You may also come to particular points
confusion where some expert legal advice can save you much time and
For example, you may want help planning a deposition, subpoenaing
deciding whether to accept a settlement proposal from your opponent.
It may be especially helpful to have your coach review your outlines of
expect to testify about and what you plan to ask witnesses on direct and
cross-examination. Your coach may spot areas where you reveal
information you are
better off keeping to yourself or questions that are likely to get you
To be on Call During Trial
It may help to have a knowledgeable attorney who is familiar with your
available for last minute consulting in case something happens at trial
throws you for a loop. If your coach agrees to be available by phone,
you can ask
the judge for a five-minute recess, even during the middle of trial if
and make a quick call for advice.
To Take Over If Things Get Out of Control
You may know that there is no way you can afford to hire a lawyer and
will try your whole case from start to finish no matter what. But do not
hiring a lawyer to take over if you really need help and can afford it.
have consulted a legal coach from time to time in preparing for trial,
lawyer may be in a good position to step in for you if feel you are
continue representing yourself.
Shopping for a Coach
When you have narrowed your list to a few possibilities, call to make an
appointment. Briefly describe the facts of your case, explain why you
think it is
a good case and state your reasons for representing yourself. Be as
you can about what you want. Explain, for instance, that you want the
help with locating the law that governs your case, and, if possible,
him or her to be available by phone or fax during your trial in case you
help pulling yourself out of a legal hole. Be sure to ask how much the
interview will cost.
Paying the Price
Most likely, your legal coach will charge you by the hour. Rates for
do personal legal services work typically run from $100 to $250 per
experts and big firm lawyers charge even more. It is important to find
exactly how the lawyer will calculate the bill. For example, some
charge by the hour bill in minimum increments of 15 minutes, and others
increments of five or six minutes. That means that a five-minute phone
conversation, for which you are billed the minimum amount, could cost
different amounts, depending on how the lawyer figures the bill.
Of course, you want to get good value for your money, but that does not
mean looking for the lowest hourly fee. Hiring a more experienced
if his or her hourly rates are high--may cost less, since he or she may
time to review and advise you on particulars of your case.
Many lawyers routinely ask clients to pay a retainer--a deposit or
fee--which is kept in a trust account and used as services are provided.
legal coach asks for a retainer, it probably should not be more than
since you do not plan on running up high legal bills and do not yet know
the legal coach relationship is really working out.
It will benefit both you and your coach to sign an agreement that makes
that the lawyer is merely advising you, that you are making your own
and are responsible for the results in the case.
Keeping Lawyer Bills Down
Hiring a competent, supportive lawyer as a legal coach will likely be
the expense. But here are some ideas on how to get the most for your
Prepare for Meetings
Prepare for all sessions, including phone calls, by sending the attorney
of all key background documents, such as the contract if you have a
dispute. Whenever possible, put your questions in writing and mail, fax
deliver them to your coach before meetings.
Consolidate Your Questions
Because hourly charges are divided up into parts of an hour, you may be
for more time than your coach actually spends with you. So it pays to
questions and ask them all at once, rather than calling every time you
Beware of Other Costs
Always ask if there will be any incidental fees, such as photocopy and
charges. If there are, you may be able to find ways to cut them down.
example, if the law office charges $3 for each page it faxes, pick up a
or ask that it be mailed to you instead of faxed.
Try to Answer Questions on Your Own
Remember that you are hiring a legal coach, not a full-service lawyer.
doing as much as you can by yourself and turning to the coach only when
Side Bar--Finding a Coach
Finding a good legal coach is likely to require some searching. You
lawyer with trial experience and familiarity with the legal issues
your case. Many beginning lawyers, and some very experienced ones, have
experience trying a case in court than you do. You also want someone you
comfortable with--someone who understands, respects and agrees to
role of legal coach. To develop a pool of potential legal coaches to
try these sources of lawyer referrals.
Friends and Family
Law practice is increasingly specialized, so an attorney who handled
friend's divorce may not be able to help coach you through a lawsuit
former employer. But lawyers tend to know lots of other lawyers; even if
to whom you are referred cannot help, he or she may be able to recommend
lawyer who can.
Legal and Community Organizations
Ask to speak with a lawyer at a local legal aid center--the nonprofit
that handles cases for lower income people--the local chapter of a
organization such as the ACLU, or a community organization focusing on
in your case, like a tenants' rights group for landlord-tenant disputes
women's organization for sex discrimination cases.
Independent paralegals--non-lawyers who help people complete and file
papers but do not give legal advice--frequently refer clients to lawyers
feedback on the lawyers' work. Check the Yellow Pages under Paralegals
or Typing Services.
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