November 8th, 2022

The Dangers of Non-Attorney Representation

Choosing the right family law lawyer is a very important decision when seeking a divorce. This is a crucial issue which can have devastating consequences.

Several years ago, the Seattle Times reports that a non-attorney named Arnold “Arnie” Newman, also known as Michael Leonard, among other aliases — illegally gave clients legal advice and pocketed thousands of dollars in retainer fees without doing any of the work he’d promised. Newman, 55, pleaded not guilty to two counts of unlawful practice of law and two counts of first-degree theft on Thursday, according to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. Newman took substantial money from non-suspecting clients in need of legal representation in complex custody battles and often did little to nothing for those clients, according to reports.

While this anecdote seems farfetched, there is an undeniable truth that folks of all backgrounds are (understandably) looking to reduce legal fees while still looking for legal advice. We would advise extreme caution.

Often, non-attorney representation, no matter how well-meaning, can make matters significantly worse. For example, our office has encountered many parents who are often advised to file their divorces in Lincoln County even if they live in Western Washington. Non-legal sources recommend this because filing in Lincoln County doesn’t require a personal appearance and the procedural rules are less complicated than other Superior Courts. What the non-attorney advisors don’t know is that if any modification or change needs to occur in the future, to any documents arising from the separation (including a parenting plan), it can be extremely difficult or expensive to do so because Lincoln County will seek to retain jurisdiction over the case. You may be stuck in Lincoln County permanently.

Similarly, many clients often work with affordable volunteer mediation centers, who charge little to no fees for their assistance settling a disputed divorce. While this may be ideal for some, many with complex financial or custody matters often walk away with settlements woefully unprepared for the stresses of the legal system and the passage of time. Perhaps the settlement omits crucial details or financial accounts, or stipulates to onerous, poorly written, or convoluted parenting terms not permitted under caselaw. These mistakes are often hideously expensive to fix after the fact, and they are not always apparent to the casual observer until years later.

We certainly know that attorneys can be expensive. But there are reasons why attorneys charge fees as they do. They have the training, experience and knowledge of the legal system to assist you in your challenges. Just as you wouldn’t go to a medical clinic in a strip mall to have brain surgery, you shouldn’t seek non-professional legal advice when your children and property are on the line.

Whether you seek our assistance or that of another attorney, please be aware of these dangers and make sure your situation does not become worse by relying on the wrong sources of advice.

If you are exploring your divorce, custody, or mediation options in the Seattle area, call the Hemmat Law Group today at (206) 682-5200 to speak with a trusted and compassionate attorney.