The danger of non-attorney representation

In an earlier blog post, I suggested choosing the right family law lawyer is a very important decision when seeking a divorce. As reported in the Seattle Times this morning, this is a very real issue which can be devastating.

Several years ago the Seattle Times reports that Arnold “Arnie” Newman, also known as Michael Leonard, among other aliases — illegally gave clients legal advice and pocketed thousands of dollars in retainer fees without doing any of the work he’d promised. He used the website, www.CustodyDisputes.org. Newman, 55, pleaded not guilty to two counts of unlawful practice of law and two counts of first-degree theft on Thursday, according to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. He was jailed at the Norm Maleng Regional Justice Center.

Newman took substantial money from non-suspecting clients in need of legal representation in complex custody battles and often did little to nothing for those clients, according to reports.

Over my years of practice, I have become familiar with several different groups similar to this, including well meaning paralegals that do not have the experience or training to effectively counsel or represent clients. Often, these individuals make matters significantly worse. For example, they often recommend that parties who live in western Washington to file their pleadings in Lincoln County, Washington, outside of Spokane, because filing in Lincoln County doesn’t require a personal appearance. What they don’t explain is that if any modification or change needs to occur in the future, it can be extremely difficult or expensive to do so because Lincoln County will seek to retain jurisdiction over the case.

We certainly know that attorneys can be expensive. This is probably the main motivation for people seeking the help of non-attorneys. But there are reasons why attorneys charge fees as they do. They have the training, experience and knowledge of the legal system to assist you in your challenges. Just as you wouldn’t go to a medical clinic in a strip mall to have brain surgery, you shouldn’t seek non-professional legal advice when your children and property are on the line.

Whether you seek my assistance or that of another attorney, please be aware of these dangers and make sure your situation does not become worse due to a desire to save money.