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Free Divorces for Valentine’s Day

You’ll want to go over to David Giacalone’s f/k/a and read this post about presumably solo attorney Brad Margolis’ (no other attorneys are listed at his website) marketing stunt giving away a free divorce for Valentine’s Day.   The news story that David links contains some discussion over whether the contest is tasteless.  David, however, takes issue with it for another reason:  Margolis represented that the value of the free divorce (uncontested, with no custody or property disputes) is roughly $1000 but his website offers an uncontested divorce for $375.  David further notes that Margolis does not mention that most people can easily obtain an uncontested divorce pro se using forms available from the court, thus further diminishing the value of the offered prize.

So far, I’m in agreement with this position.  But where I take issue is when David goes on to criticize Margolis’ flat $375 dollar fee (costs not included, which according to the news story are @ $390) [as excessive:] Editor’s correction:  note that David does NOT say that a $375 flat fee is excessive.   This is his full quote below and my revised commentary thereafter:

drawing down a retainer) is $158.00 per hour.  [That rate will sound low to many readers,Margolis’ divorce fee agreement states that his hourly fee (for purposes of but recall that Margolis practices in central NYS, where lawyer income, like the whole economy, is depressed.]   At that hourly rate, Margolis would be paid for about 2.4 hours under the $375 flat fee — a generous allotment of time.

Personally, I really don’t think that 2.4 hours to prepare a form is overly excessive reasonable.  First, you’ve got to meet with and interview the client to explain the process.  I’m guessing that could take at least a half hour to three quarters of an hour (it should, anyway!).  Then, you’ve got to open a file on the client, run a conflicts check and review the documents to make sure that a simple uncontested divorce will work for the case.  Then, there’s the matter of filling in the information, proofing it and possibly running it by the client for review.   And yes, maybe there’s a bit of premium built in above the $158/an hour, but I don’t find that unreasonable.  It’s because of Margolis’ expertise that he can offer the flat rate.  Isn’t that better than say a junior attorney charging $100 an hour but taking five hours to complete the petition?

As David points out, clients have a choice here as well.  They can learn about how to file a pro se divorce and figure out how to do so.  For a $10.00/hr hourly wage earners who have little in the way of savings or disposable income, it’s probably worth it to miss a few hours of work to go down to the court to seek pro se assistance and spend a few more hours at night or on the weekend filling out the form.  For someone making $50/hr, the convenience of being able to delegate the work to someone else for $375 is worth the cost.  I know that there are many things that my husband or I can do ourselves around the house – yardwork or weekly housecleaning – that would be less costly than hiring others for those tasks.  In fact,  I don’t really mind those tasks so much, but truth is, I’d rather spend what little spare time I have with my daughters.   My point is that just because pro se divorces can be obtained free, doesn’t mean that everyone will necessarily want to avail themselves of that option.

I support any individual’s right to handle a matter pro se.   And in some cases, it’s an economic necessity to have this right available.  But I’m wondering whether any group like HALT has anyone ever run the numbers on how long it takes a non-lawyer to prepare a legal document on their own, be it a do-it-yourself will or divorce.  It’s hard to compare the costs of a flat fee divorce versus an individual without knowing how much of their time is involved, since everyone’s time has value.