Pro Bono Representation
A parent who cannot afford a private attorney may benefit from the services of a pro bono attorney. Many large firms expect their attorneys to volunteer a number of pro bono hours on an annual basis. Attorneys generally choose their pro bono projects based on their interests. Here are some considerations to assist parents in making a decision about pro bono representation:
Can the parent afford a private attorney?
Legal fees in a child custody matter can be extensive. An attorney will expect to be paid hourly, and an attorney will also expect a significant retainer (a down payment towards legal fees incurred). Parents of lesser means, who cannot afford a private attorney, might consider representing him/herself pro se or consider requesting services from a pro bono attorney.
Is the other party represented by an attorney?
Frequently, I recommend that clients obtain independent counsel when the other party is represented by counsel. I call it "leveling the playing field." Pro bono attorneys are a great alternative to private attorneys because they are free to the client, and yet they can articulate their client's needs in court, instead of a client having to do it themselves.
Has the parent located an attorney with whom he/she is completely comfortable?
When choosing an attorney, it is extremely important for the parent to be comfortable with the attorney. Due to the nature of pro bono services (i.e. unpaid), some parents might think about compromising their own ideas and strategy for the custody matter, in favor of the attorney's free services. However, parents should be comfortable enough with a pro bono attorney to speak up and engage in an even exchange between lawyer and client.
Is the pro bono attorney familiar with family law?
Corporate law departments generally sponsor and support pro bono programs. Therefore, a parent may find an attorney who normally practices Corporate Law, but he/she decides to work on a family law project. Although, there's nothing wrong with this scenario, it's important that any pro bono attorney have some familiarity with family law procedure. The goal is for the attorney to be well-prepared so there are no surprises in court.
Parents Proceeding Pro Bono Should:
- Interview all prospective attorneys
- Attend a court proceeding in advance to get a feel for court procedures
- Inquire as to the success of the attorney's past representations
- Talk to other parents about their experiences with pro bono attorneys
Working with a pro bono attorney may be a great option for some parents. The ultimate decision should not be made lightly. Parents should spend a lot of time interviewing prospective attorneys and evaluating their individual cases. An attorney in your state can also help you decide whether or not you can handle the case with the assistance of a pro bono attorney. As a non-adversarial alternative to a court proceeding, parents should also consider mediation or arbitration.