How to get a lawyer for $400

Even people who like lawyers would agree that it's expensive to get one. Oh sure, saves you money in the long run, but that assumes you have the money to cover the expense now. And what if your case would have resolved itself anyway? Maybe you won't need a lawyer after all, maybe in fact your lawyer dragged things out so he or she could bill more. 

Traditionally, if you took that notion into a law firm, they'd either turn you away or convince you to sign up and get billed for secret lawyer stuff. The eventual bill would be higher than you expected, maybe much higher, and you'd still never really understand what that lawyer did for you. Neither is a great solution. 

Verbeck Law tries something different. We say to that skeptical client, okay, you have some good reasons not to trust us. People complain about law firms all the time. Here's what we propose: we'll talk to you about your case and tell you where you are and what happens next. If you don't feel like our explanation helped you, or don't feel like you need the help we suggest, then we both walk away. If you feel like we can help, but either can't or don't want to pay for a full-time lawyer, okay. Maybe what you could use is two hours of talking to one of our expert attorneys about your case, so you can fight it yourself. Maybe all you need is the starting document, and you can handle it yourself after that's done. Maybe all you need is someone you can email when you have minor legal questions and don't want to spend a few hundred dollars getting the answer from a retained attorney. 

We offer all those services, and more. We don't offer them as an adjunct service or as a lower-tier form of work; we're proud to be able to help people who would be turned away by other firms. We think many clients are plenty smart enough to understand their case, if it's well explained, and we're okay with proving to you that we can help before you give us serious money to do so. If $400 is all you have, we'll help you as much as we can in return for that. If $400 is all you're willing to risk on an attorney, we'll give you the best service we can, in the hope of earning your trust. 

We also don't do surprise billing. A $400 attorney can often turn into a $400/day attorney, which seems like a bait-and-switch to us. If we tell you we'll make you a document or consult on your case for $400, that's all it will cost. No add-ons, no caveats, no surprise charges. Just $400. 

Is it quality work? We think so, but we know you're not convinced by that. Consider this: we have to do a good job, because we don't charge enough to cover angry clients and billing disputes. If we're doing a divorce filing for you for $400, we want to give you a document that's unimpeachable, so we can get on to the next case. That's how we make money, and that's our best guarantee of quality to you. 

So, if $400 is about what you can afford, or that's about what you're willing to part with, think about shooting us an email. We're confident it'll be the best $400 you ever spend. 

Evictions and the importance of negotiation

Evictions make for remarkably contentious cases. Even a fairly simple residential eviction can drag out for mother or even years, all out of proportion to the property involved. Landlords, particularly in San Francisco, complain about the multitude of tenant protections, whereas tenants often feel stuck and confused. 

Verbeck Law tries to resolve these cases through consistent and responsive negotiations. It's despairingly common for an eviction firm to do the bare minimum and then disappear, letting a case drag while the two parties refuse to talk to one another. Often these cases resolve at the first hearing, when the parties talk for the first time, which suggests to us that the months this process takes are usually being wasted. 

A negotiated settlement serves both parties much better than a judgment. For the tenant, the payoff is a dismissal, which allows then to about an eviction on their record. For the landlord, a settlement gives them back their property months (or years) earlier than would be possible otherwise, allowing them to start renting again. 

Most eviction firms, though, don't really benefit from negotiated settlements. If they can charge more for a long case, there's no reason they should try to hurry a case along. Longer cases have more hearings and require more billed work, and thus cost more for, usually, the same result.  

This is why Verbeck Law does fixed price representation. Once we get paid, our motivation is to get the case done as soon as possible, so we can pick up another case. We do this in eviction cases by negotiating early and often. If we can find a solution that works for both parties, we're done, and our desk is cleared for another case. 

This strategy relies on having attorneys who have excellent negotiation skills and know how to use them in eviction cases. Our broad experience and multi-talented representation puts a premium on negotiation skills, and we feel that they especially since in eviction law. If you're thinking of evicting a tenant or you're facing eviction yourself, please consider shooting us an email. We'll get your case done right, and fast. 

A Cheap Lawyer versus Cheap Legal Work

Many people faced with legal problems think that they want a cheap lawyer. They shop for a lawyer with a low hourly rate, pay a modest retainer, and hope their problem is solved. Often, the total bill mysteriously adds up, and the case takes a lot longer to resolve than the client was expecting. Sometimes the client even has to hire a different lawyer, usually a more expensive one, to fix mistakes the first lawyer made. Thus, a cheap lawyer can be a pretty bad deal. If someone is maintaining a traditional practice with cheap rates, it's likely they're inexperienced, or are having problems keeping client, and a rate that's noticeably cheaper than rates in the same neighborhoods may be a reg flag. 

However, the point of Verbeck Law and similar sites is that you can get good legal work done for cheap. Some of the things that make legal work expensive actually aren't necessary to the practice of law, and, in our opinion, distract from quality work. Big fancy offices are a good example. Think about the beautiful decor in a casino; what does that tell you about what's going to happen to your money? And how much time are the lawyers spending dealing with landscaping people or artwork rental services, instead of doing research? We use virtual offices when we need them, so when you pay us for legal work, you're not helping pay office building rent. 

So why do people look for things like fancy office buildings when selecting a lawyer? Partially, people want to feel certain that their lawyer is talented enough to make money and stay in business, but partially, people don't have much to compare. Most people don't need lawyers very often, and only interact with lawyers in rare, specific environments. A cheap lawyer, one with a bad office or no office, probably isn't any good, right? 

Sadly we've run into a lot of poor attorneys with amazing desks, and we've been pleased to run into some great attorneys who can't be bothered to maintain an office in any of the cities they operate in. Nor does an office point towards stability; Over the last decade, many top firms have suddenly ripped in half, spilling shite-shoe lawyers all over the market. In our opinion, this is good. It indicates, among other things, that clients are getting more intelligent about legal services. 

Fundamentally, if you need legal work done for not very much money, but you still want it done well, it's your responsibility to become an intelligent consumer of legal services. You need to learn what sort of help you're likely to need for your case, and you're going to have to figure out how to analyze pitches from different kinds of attorneys. It's like hunting for a car: if you want quality and can't pay a huge premium for it outright, you better know your stuff. 

Verbeck Law is based on the idea that, if potential clients learn more about the law from us, they'll be more likely to select us to help them with their cases. So when we tell you that many divorce cases come to a settlement outside of court, maybe this makes you less likely to hire a fully retained attorney for your case, but we hope you'll think about hiring us for a brief consultation on how to make a good settlement more likely. This could be the difference between spending a few thousand dollars on your case and a few hundred, by the way. Which sounds like a better deal to you? 

When to Hire a Lawyer

Deciding to start a lawsuit, or deciding when to get a lawyer of your own, can be a crucial and confusing choice. Everyone knows lawyers are expensive, and many people think they can handle simple matters on their own. In fairness, sometimes they're right, but sometimes they end up brining in an attorney later, and in effect paying that attorney to do a bunch of work over. It's not always obvious which cases are complicated, and not everyone is clear on the benefit of having a lawyer for their particular case. This post will explain some rules of thumb that'll help you decide when to think about getting professional help. 

Obvious Cases

These are easy: If you're suddenly in jail, now would be a good time to hire a lawyer. If you got served with divorce papers and are distraught, confused, and afraid, call a lawyer and get a responsible orientation at the very least. If you just sunk $20k of your money into the start-up you and your buddy are working on, well, you should have called us last week, but late's better than never. 

Similarly, if there's a court date coming up soon and you don't know what you'll have to do, consult with a lawyer. If you have something like a divorce which involves a lot of money or real property, like a house, it'll be cheaper to get a lawyer's help than to get a bad settlement, and if you want to do something like file for emergency custody, you'll need an attorney's help right away. 

Cases that Probably Warrant Legal Help

There are cases that don't obviously need an attorney, but for which we think an attorney is more than worth the price. These include cases like nearly every divorce, and every custody filing. We offer extremely affordable types of help here, and even a little bit of help is much, much better than none. It's easy to mess up a case like divorce or custody, and the consequences can be very serious. 

A criminal case also calls for an attorney, even if you've been convicted before. Attorneys are much better prepared to negotiate with the state, and in the current economy it's incredibly important to keep your record as clean as possible. 

If you're going into business, whether as a start-up or under some other model, we think a brief consult with an attorney is a really good idea. Sometimes a few hundred bucks' worth of consultation can save you literal millions down the road, and certainly if you're thinking about making a partnership or an LLC, you should hire us to look over it and make sure you're not creating future problems for yourself. 

Last but not least, there are a lot of simple civil cases that get a lot easier with an attorney's help. Evictions are a good example, as are expungements. With proper forms and with letterhead the court recognizes, your case stands a much better chance of going through quickly and successfully. 

Maybe-Not Cases

We call these Not-Yet cases, and they include cases in which there's not yet really much for an attorney to do. For example, suppose you want to go into business but you haven't figured out which business participants will do what yet. We can offer some guidance from our experience and tell you about the legal consequences of various avenues, but we can't do much more than that until you decide on what your business will look like. 

Similarly, if you're a landlord and you've handled evictions a hundred times before, you probably don't need or want an attorney to do it for you. Hiring us on for a few hours to look at your forms and make sure your process is still legal is a great idea, and of course if we know more about your business we can come in and help more easily if a case goes sideways. But if you've repped yourself successfully before, we don't insist on replacing you. We'll just teach you how to do it better. 

Evictions for Landlords

Particularly within the bay area, evictions are a contentious business. They're also often the subject of complaints about lawyers, which is perhaps not surprising given the fee structure that a lot of firms use. It's common to see a low quote, a sucker rate of sorts, and it's common for clients not to realize that that rate doesn't include things like amended filings or court appearances. Both are fairly common in evictions, and both can give rise to fee disputes. 

In a standard eviction, called an unlawful detainer in court, a land owner gives a tenant a 30-day (or 3-day or 60-day) notice to a tenant, the time limit expires, and the landlord files a petition in court. Commonly evictions are begun for non-payment of rent, but can also be brought when a landlord wishes to remodel a building, or is selling the property. 

What this summary misses, unfortunately, is that these simple beginning steps are where most problems happen. Landlords are, typically, not lawyers, and frankly, many eviction firms don't do a great job of reading through notices and making sure they meet requirements. A faulty notice can get a case dismissed, and messing up the service requirements can cause a case to get tossed the first time it gets to court. 

Similarly, most courts in metropolitan areas will require a settlement meeting or mediation as part of the eviction process. This is a separate step often not covered or addressed in the low-ball eviction deals many firms promote, despite the fact that a lot of cases can be resolved during negotiations with a little help. Most cases don't need to go to a full hearing, but most firms charge an extra appearance fee, and so have no particular motivation to help cases resolve early. 

Verbeck Law has a simple approach to most evictions, when we're bringing a petition for a landlord. Most tenants don't want an eviction on their record, and most landlords have despaired of getting their money back and just want the tenant out so they can rent to someone else. The best deal to offer is a stipulated judgment, under which the tenant can avoid an eviction if they're out by a set date, and if not, the landlord can return to court ex parte (which is usually a written filing, not a real court date) and get their writ of possession then. The stip judgment, as these agreements are called, can often include a judgment for past due rent, though again, collecting these monies is often difficult. 

Of course, some cases need to go to hearing, and some cases are even more simply resolved when the defendant doesn't show up for court. In either case, Verbeck Law is ready to go with our stream-lined process. But, our set quote includes things like court appearances, and our strategy takes for granted that we'll be able to resolve the majority of cases with a minimum amount of time. In this way we make sure that our interests are the same as ours clients: You want your property vacant as soon as possible, we want your case over as soon as possible so that we can start on another. Most firms will keep charging you for every new appearance, and so they profit from dragging a case out. Our flat fees are final, no matter how long the case lasts, and so we'd rather have it over sooner. We find most of our clients agree. 

We also take pride in educating our clients about the normal course evictions will take. We recommend contacting us as soon as possible, so we can take a look at the notices you use and advise you on the best option, but even if you've already used your own forms we can tell you what to expect next. We also pride ourselves on availability, and our goal is not to be one of the law firms that seems to take your money and then disappear. 

Anyway, if you're a landlord and you have an eviction in process, or a perennially troubling client you're planning on evicting soon, please contact us and tell us what's going on with your case. We'll give you a quote, and if it works for you, we'll get your case over and done with as quickly as possible. 

Choosing between a full-time lawyer and bundled services

Traditionally, someone who wanted a lawyer had no choice but to consult with one, and pay a sizable retainer. Small cases were either refused as not worth the effort or over-billed by charging a full lawyer rate for paralegal or even secretarial time. This model is dying, as more people learn more about the law and more traditional clients start to request itemized billing. Bundled legal services emerged as an alternative: Rather than paying for a lawyer’s full services over the course of a case, clients could choose to buy only the legal products they thought they needed. RocketLawyer and Zoom Legal, both of which Verbeck Law is listed in, pioneered these services, and fought a long legal battle against the Bar in many states to make this sort of legal service available.


Nevertheless, there remains a place for a fully retained attorney; some cases are inescapably long and complicated, and some clients feel better having a lawyer they can call whenever a new problem arises, and a lawyer who will represent them every step of the way. Deciding between these two options can be confusing, and in this post I hope to illustrate the factors you should consider when making your choice. Verbeck Law offers a great number of exact-price legal documents, but we also accept conventional retainer cases, and so we can help you out whichever you choose.


Bundled Legal Services


Bundled legal services are legal documents, consultations, and other products that have a clear price tag attached. If you know you want a partnership agreement, and what a partnership agreement does, hire us to draft a good one. We talk to you and your partners, draft the document, revise if necessary, and when everyone’s happy with it, we all shake hands and go on our way. No big retainer, no unwanted and expensive advice on peripheral issues, no bill-padding, easy-peasy. This is ideal for the client comfortable with the legal field, who knows what document they need and wants to make sure it’s done right.


Bundled legal services also include consultations, in which you and your lawyer talk for an hour, or two, or four, about your case. Your lawyer will explain to you what’s happening with the case now, the importance of where it’s going, and what’s going to happen next. You can arrange for your attorney to review documents, and to recommend documents that you should file next. You can of course have us prepare recommended documents after a consultation, in which case we give you a break on the price, or you can just get some solid education and advice, and decide for yourself if you need any more help later. This is ideal for a client who’s been served with papers, isn’t very experienced with the legal system, but isn’t sure they need or can afford a full-time attorney.


Full Retainer Cases


Some cases effectively require a full-time attorney, which means an attorney paid at an agreed-upon hourly rate. Our pages on fully retained attorneys lay out how this works, but basically, you should consider a fully retained attorney if your case is very complicated, involves multiple types of law, or if the idea of going to court or dealing with an opposing lawyer scares the pants off you. A fully retained attorney represents you at everything, prepares all the motions your case needs, and engages expert witnesses if your case can benefit from one. We also pride ourselves on having attorneys comfortable in multiple fields, so you can use an attorney you trust for mixed-law cases.


If you have a divorce case with children, significant amounts of property, or allegations of abuse or domestic violence, you should strongly consider a fully retained attorney, if you can afford it. Custody fights are often particularly bitter, and cases with criminal allegations require an attorney comfortable in both family law and criminal law. If you have complicated forms of property, like real estate or equity accounts, you should fully retain an attorney, both because those cases are complicated and because a good attorney can save you more than his or her price by getting you a better settlement.


Finally, if you’re terrified of court, or if you’re scared of your former partner or their attorney, you should consider a full-time attorney. A full-time attorney can stand between you and the court, or an unfriendly lawyer, or an intimidating or vindictive partner. Having representation whenever you need it will make the legal system much easier and calmer to handle, and the wide experience of our attorneys in family, criminal, and mental health law means we are not intimidated.


However, if you’re comfortable with the idea of going to court yourself, and just want a little expert direction or a crucial document done right, check out our price menu, or email us about your situation and we'll give you a quote. 

The Free Consultation Scam

Most firms and essentially all solo practitioners will offer prospective clients a free initial consultation, during which the client can get limited legal advice for free, and then decide whether or not to hire a particular attorney. This is actually a sales pitch, as anyone who's say through one knows. Generally the lawyer will either decline the case out of hand, or tell the client how serious their situation is and advise posting a retainer right now. Sometimes this is justified; traditional firms can only handle cases that come with X guaranteed dollars, and some times cases are really serious and the client does need immediate counsel. 

However, more frequently, the case is not as serious as the lawyer makes it sound. The fog of mystery that law firms cultivate makes a legal case seem very threatening, and generally lawyers aren't looking to do much education in an initial consultation. 

I find that an oriented client makes for a much better relationship, and a much better case. My goal in an initial consultation is to figure out what problem you have, translate your problem from legal to normal English for you, and then set out a few different choices. Sometimes, of course, I have to suggest clients retain me immediately, but often we're able to settle on something less drastic. For example, a landowner planning construction and facing objections from a neighbor may just need a well-drafted letter and a few hours of lawyer time to understand what the options are and which triggers to look out for. I love to be able to tell clients that what they bought should take care of the problem, and to feel like they know enough to know when to call me again if things get worse. 

Similarly, if you have a speeding ticket for $300, getting decent legal advice is basically impossible. It's not worth most lawyers' time to set up a formal retainer and to schedule possible hearing dates for less than the full price of the ticket, and yet a speeding ticket can have a large impact on your life. What I generally recommend is that you pay for one or two hours of my time, so I can hear the story and educate you on your options to fight it. I'll tell you what will work best for your particular case, and tell you about the court you're walking into. Thus, Verbeck Law gets paid for a couple of hours of work, and you get legal advice on an important legal problem. That's all you pay for, and if you need more help later, give us a call and we'll figure something else out. I won't take a big chunk of your money and sit on it; that doesn't make sense for anyone. 

Our initial consuls are, I believe, more useful and more honest. They are also, as of this writing, free. If you have a problem that might benefit from a little legal help, shoot us an email and we'll see what we can do.