In the past decade or so the internet has exploded with free information and resources. The legal field is no exception, particularly the world of family law, i.e., divorce, custody, etc. It is a blessing and a curse, to have so much free family law resources being at the public’s disposal. One of the big problems with the endless amount of information is that way too many people think they are now qualified to make all legal decisions.
Where is this Free Information & Resources?
There are a number of ways that free stuff is being offered to the public. Although there are still nonprofit organizations, law school clinics, law firms, etc. that offer pro bono services. Most of the freebies come from online sources like publications, forums, blogs, etc. Websites like www.justia.com, and similar, make it their primary focus to give out free information.
When to Use the Free Resources
Just because something is free to you does not mean it is good for you. They say the best things in life are free. And that may be the case, but at the same time, they say “it might be too good to be true.” Either way, you need to learn to use discernment when deciding if you should indulge. In family law, the best advice is not always paid advice, but free advice can be disastrous. Things you should keep in mind are the complexity of your divorce or custody, the type of free help (advice, information, or representation), whether the other side has an attorney, and so on. If your case involves an extreme case of parental alienation, for example, then you might not want to take advantage of a lawyer offering free representation if they have no experience in these types of high conflict cases. Also, if your divorce has a question of whether separate property can be considered marital property because of “commingling,” again you might not want to go to court armed with free advice you got online on the topic.
What are the risks of Using the Free Family Law Resources?
Using the wrong lawyer is risky, relying on bad advice is just as risky. Not that paid is synonymous with quality, but there are times when free is synonymous with subpar quality. Family Court is a very volatile arena so it is important to be vigilant about everything.
One thing I see litigants doing way, way too often is relying on free advice from forums, social media, etc. I get it, they get desperate considering the stakes are extremely high. However, choosing this route because the advice is free has wreaked havoc for way too many.
Free consultations are the much safer options, although that route can have its own issues. As someone recently mentioned, attorneys do not always give their best or most effective advice for free. No, on the contrary, they give just enough to instill fear in people to induce them to hire them.
And then there is the sites that offer free information on everything from specific caselaw to the step-by-step process on how to “win” a case. The problem is these is that they are not always accurate. Some of them just regurgitate misinformation found on another site and so it goes on and on. This has also led to catastrophic results because laypeople do not know that the information is incorrect.
What are the Alternatives?
There are other options to relying on free family law resources. Some are good and very helpful, so no need to be apprehensive about using any of them but you have to use your critical thinking skills to help you decide.
There are, however, several options out there. Now there are services available that are low cost and high quality. Limited scope services, is something lawyers offer as a way to reach parties that have limited funds. Some lawyers will make limited court appearances part of the service they offer. This is good because you get to choose when they go to court. Also, things like document preparation or document review are considered limited scope (or Unbundled Services, which is what I offer). Lawyers are not the only ones offering these low-cost options. For example, there are independent contract paralegals that also help with certain aspects of your case. And, there are actual document preparers who do just that, their costs are typically a fraction of the costs of a lawyer’s.
Legal coaching (I offer Pro Se & Family Court coaching) is also becoming more acceptable as an alternative to actual legal representation. Lawyers, and other people with legal experience, are now acting in an advisory position to help people get the guidance they need. These are all viable options for family law litigants. Particularly those who do not want to rely on the free resources but are limited in how much they can spend.
Do what’s best for your case and your budget. My advice is to always choose based on asking yourself the important questions. There are more options out there now than 10 years ago, even a year ago actually. You can always use both, paid and unpaid to ease your mind of any related concerns.