Thursday, November 17, 2005
More Bang for Your Buck: Lawyers
Let's face it, finding an affordable attorney is a rarity. But if you are going to court, there is a way to avoid being overcharged. In tonight's More Bang for the Buck, we found somebody who's trustworthy, will not cost you a cent, and can even tip the scales of justice in your favor.
WSVN--The verdicts are real...The decisions are final...But what's missing in this courtroom are the lawyers. That's because each day, thousands of people are pleading their own cases without ever spending a day in law school.
Marniece Watts Holmes: "I didn't want to fight with him at all. I wanted a smooth transition because we were agreeing on everything."
When Marniece Watts Holmes wanted a divorce, she first contacted an attorney.
But instead of paying thousands of dollars, she decided to go pro-se, which means she represented herself in court.
Marniece Watts Holmes: "The legal system is not something that's easy. It is a maze and if you don't have anyone directing you, it can get complicated."
To avoid the complication, there is the Miami-Dade County Family Court Self-Help Program. Here, litigants like Marniece, are guided by trained professionals for free. You only pay for the paperwork and the filing fee.
Salli Eckert: "We have notary services free of charge and we don't have any limits on how many times they can come back and seek assistance."
Salli Eckert is the court legal advisor for the self-help program. She says the pro-se option works best for less complex cases like uncontested divorces, name changes, and minor civil suits.
Salli Eckert: "In any case except criminal you can represent yourself."
Also remember the process can take some time. There are many steps before a judge or jury makes a decision. Not to mention, there are often delays because people going pro se forget it is their job to notify the other side of a hearing.
Salli Eckert: "You are taking the responsibility of your case. You're responsible."
Of course, if the process is making you nervous, Judge Joel Brown suggests litigants sit in and watch similar cases.
Judge Joel Brown: "If people come to court and they see wants going on, they would see what happens in real life."
It's case closed for Marniece. By going pro-se, her divorce was quick and easy.
Marniece Watts Holmes: "To do pro se to be able to walk it through myself without have to answer to a middle person. It was really peaceful."
By the way, the paperwork and filing fee for a pro se case usually runs anywhere from a hundred bucks to four hundred bucks. A lot of money, but still less than what you would pay for a lawyer.
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