Does it matter that it is cheaper to hire a paralegal to handle your divorce?

Is it cheaper to hire a paralegal to handle your divorce? That is the question asked in today’s Living/Family Relationship section of in a storyabout Amy Wishart of DoItYourselfDocuments. First of all, hat’s off to Amy for generating such a favorable piece of publicity. She also handled her comments in the article well. Of course, I am principally interested because of the timing of the article in relation to the discussion here and at Paralegalese on the issue of “independent” paralegals.

Here are some points made by Wishart:

For Wishart, being a paralegal means knowing and understanding the legal processes.

“A paralegal can do everything an attorney can do except give legal advice or step inside a court,” she said.

There are two types of paralegals. Wishart is an independent paralegal that prepares documents for individuals who retain her services. There are also paralegals that work for attorneys and can therefore speak on behalf of their employer, Wishart said.

She, like Mr. Martin, who has been quoted on this blog, is careful not to “cross the line”

Because paralegals are not legally allowed to provide their clients with advice, Wishart said many independent paralegals avoid direct contact with their customers. “Somebody who prepares documents can’t give advice, but they have the knowledge,” Wishart said. “It’s a very fine line that cannot be crossed.”

To avoid crossing that line, Wishart, as with many paralegals, has her clients fill out and submit a questionnaire. She then uses the information provided to fill out the appropriate court documents, she said.

“I use the questionnaire to avoid asking questions,” she said.

Perhaps most interesting in terms of where we left this issue in the last post, the story also quotes Amy and another independent paralegal with regard to these problems:

According to Therkildsen, using a paralegal service has its pros, but potential clients should be cautious. “The good thing about paralegal services is the price,” she said. “But anyone can claim they are a paralegal. It is kind of a buyer beware situation.”

Therkildsen recommends starting the hunt for a paralegal with an Internet search. “You want to know if it’s a legitimate business,” she said. “What are their qualifications, experience? Are they licensed with the state?”

Both Therkildsen and Wishart also suggest checking with the Better Business Bureau to ensure there are no complaints against the company. Even if you use an online service, call and talk to someone at the service,” Wishart said. “There are a lot of unscrupulous people out there.”

Therkildsen said finding a qualified paralegal is extremely important. She has seen cases of individuals posing as paralegals who will take their client’s money and nothing more. Other supposed paralegal services simply sell the documents needed to file for bankruptcy and mail the blank forms to the client.

“My pet peeve is people who claim to be a paralegal and sell the documents you can get off the state’s Web site for free,” Therkildsen said.

This last harkens back to the discussion of the many sorts of people out for the most they can possibly get for the least they can possibly do.

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