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As an LDA I employ my paralegal skills and experience and follow ALDAP's business practices model to remain in compliance while helping my clients.
I received a follow-up phone call today from a client who came to me several months ago with a desire to file an appeal of his Superior Court case. He had formerly been represented by counsel and that counsel failed to show up at a MSJ hearing and my client was sanctioned and the defendants prevailed.
This is a client I blogged about previously ("Bo") as he had, prior to meeting me, hired a rogue document preparer who held himself out as an unlicensed attorney, to prepare his appeal. After learning that his designation had been rejected three times and after a review of the San Diego Superior Court's file, my client realized that the rogue had forged his signature on legal documents filed with the court, and that the guy was basically taking him for a ride having charged him $1,200 for a notice of appeal and the designation documents.
Since his case concerned his home and his mortgage, I was uncertain if I could legitimately help him, at least to the extent he required. My first concern was whether or not he could withstand the pressure of preparation of an opening brief complete with case law, etc.
We discussed his level of competence and comprehension and we agreed that I would provide him with the procedural information which he would read and then we would see where to go from there. I did so and he was ready to commence preparation of his brief believing that he was able to adequately represent himself and write his own brief.
During the next few days my client realized that self representation was not as easy as it appeared on television and that the brief he was to create was not a simple task. He called and asked me questions like "Can you do the introduction, I don't know what to put?" He asked me to pull cases that match his particular situation. He called several times a day always asking for me to do the brief for him or start it for him or to help him write it. This, I explained, I cannot do.
Finally, I recommended that he pay an attorney to write the brief. He did not want to hire yet another attorney, but I admonished him that the writing of the brief was obviously not within his ability and it was definitely not within the scope of services I could or would provide. I explained that paying legal counsel to help now would be better than losing and then retaining counsel to figure out why or to help repair any damage self representation could bring. I referred him to legal counsel who was willing to assist him with the brief and not kill him with a $300 an hour rate.
A few weeks later I received a call from my client who had been instructed by the attorney to file a motion to augment the record. I once again provided him with the rules of court and procedural information so that he could reasonably fashion his motion. He fashioned; I typed, filed, and served the motion - he prevailed!
He was overjoyed and ready to take on the big guys. I warned him that this was merely a battle in the war and not to get too cocky about the win, "One must not tempt fate."
I received the rough draft of the brief from his "ghost writing" attorney and after edits, formatting and preparation of the TOC and TOA, we sent it off to all. OC filed its responsive brief some time later and we waited. My client decided, against counsel's advise, to request oral argument. He appeared, argued and we waited some more.
Today the email notification from the court dropped into my inbox. It stated that my client's case was remanded back to Superior Court and he shall receive another turn at bat. I called my "now former" client and we discussed the win. I told him how proud I was of him taking on the big law firm on principle and that his drive and determination were the main factors in his win. He thanked me yet again for all my help and said that he would not have won if he would not have met me; that I helped him find counsel to write the brief and that my support and the information I provided to him in the form of rules, procedures, samples, etc. allowed him to adequately and properly represent himself. He said that he knew he didn't have a chance at prevailing until he met me - the person who convinced him that the case involved his life savings and his home and that he needed more help than what I alone could provide.
This is a duty of a legal document assistant. We are not attorneys. We might have a grasp of legal issues and remedies, but ABSOLUTELY NOT to the extent that we should be advising our clients on how to proceed or write their materials for them. It is our obligation - and it is the law - that we advise potential clients of any need for legal counsel. It is morally proper and any non-attorney legal service provider who acts independently on behalf of a client lacks integrity and is flirting with loss of bonding which is a requirement of registration.
As I always tell any callers who are confused about what to do or where to go - get yourself the legal advice from a licensed attorney who is competent, then return to me when you can provide instruction. Front-load the legal advice - do not wait until after you file documents and appear at a hearing and then learn all your money, time and trouble were for naught. Do it first so that you are not spinning your wheels. I tell them, "I will take your money - heck anyone will take your money - but spend it wisely. Use forethought and prudence and talk to an attorney who will advise you properly before undertaking serious legal matters."
This I know to be true: An educated client is a successful litigant. A successful litigant/client is a perfect source of enthusiastic referrals.
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
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