Getting a Lawyer
Many people hire a lawyer to handle their case in the court system because it is hard to do without training and experience. Your case may be so important or so complex that you will benefit from the assistance of a lawyer. Sometimes when people represent themselves, they end up having to hire a lawyer to "fix" their mistakes, which can be costly. It is a good idea to start by talking to a lawyer about your problem before you decide to represent yourself in court.
Click here to download a brochure titled Handling Your Case in Family Court, which offers more information.
Finding a Lawyer
Talk to family and friends for their recommendations. The yellow page directory is another source for lawyers in your area. Your local library may have a copy of the Missouri Legal Directory that contains information about lawyers and their areas of practice.
The Missouri Bar has a lawyer referral service that can connect you with a lawyer who is knowledgeable about your type of case:
The Missouri Bar also has an online lawyer search that lists lawyers accepting new clients.
People of modest means may be eligible for assistance through local legal services programs. Go to the county resources list for your county for details.
Hiring a Lawyer
The Client Resource Guide is a publication of The Missouri Bar that contains helpful information about hiring a lawyer. Talk about the fee at your first meeting with a lawyer. The lawyer wants you to be pleased with the service and expects to discuss fees with you. Lawyers are prohibited from charging a "contingent" fee (a percentage of money collected) in family law matters.
Lawyers enter into several types of arrangements to represent people:
Consultation: A lawyer will discuss your case and provide some advice at an hourly rate.
Advance Fee Deposit: A lawyer may ask for part of the fee in advance, particularly if the lawyer will represent you in court. Often, the lawyer will be responsible for all the services required in the case. The lawyer may have a fixed fee, or may charge you by the hour.
Limited Scope Representation: It always is best to be informed about your legal rights. New rules allow Missouri lawyers to assist people with some of the legal work in their cases. The client remains responsible for tasks not handled by the lawyer. Examples of work the lawyer may perform include the following: consulting about legal rights and strategies, preparation of court documents, and appearing in court with the client to prove up an uncontested case. Lawyers may charge by the task or by the hour. The fee generally is based on the amount of work performed by the lawyer.
Collaborative Law: An
exciting new approach to divorce and other family legal disputes. In the collaborative law process each spouse is represented by an attorney hired to advise
the client and achieve a negotiated settlement in a context of full and open
disclosure where the goal is a fair and equitable resolution of all issues. A team
of related professionals can be available to work with the family and the attorneys
providing coaching in communication, guidance on child issues, and practical
assistance with financial matters. The parties and the professionals agree not to
litigate the dispute or participate in court proceedings. The focus and energy and
resources of all involved in the process is on creative problem-solving based on a
sound legal foundation. This model offers a divorce process which protects the
dignity, integrity, and long-term best interests of all family members.
"Pro Bono" Assistance: Some lawyers are willing to assist people with low income at no cost. Your local bar association or Legal Services agency has a list of lawyers willing to donate legal services. Go to the county resources list for your county for details.
The Missouri Bar has a fee dispute resolution program to help people work out disagreements over fees with their lawyer.
Not sure which way to go?
Going to court without a lawyer is called pro se and pronounced "pro-say." The law and rules of court apply to everyone, people represented by lawyers and people representing themselves. You can learn more about this by viewing the education program.