It's no secret that Rhode Island divorce lawyers and lawyers in general have a poor reputation with the public. Strangely I was surprised by a very unique telephone call the other day. The call was from a person in the midst of a divorce and his concerns seem to puzzle me even as I write this article.
I had been planning to go to what I refer to as a "Virtual Office" concept in about 8 months with my law practice which is dedicated almost exclusively to Rhode Island divorce and family law issues.
However, as gas prices rose to new heights and Rhode Island was declared to be in an official recession it became imperative that I accelerate my plans and convert my divorce practice to a "Virtual Office" concept this month rather than waiting for my full transition to occur on the gradual basis I had planned.
I reached my decision after reviewing the needs of the Rhode Island community as a whole and balancing various financial factors relating to practice costs and expenses as against and weighing it with the and the significant adjustments I would have to make to implement this new and beneficial concept for my clients.
This Virtual Office concept is bound to raise some questions by those who have not embraced technology as a means to save them time and money. I expected that. After all, it is concept I have been developing for the past three (3) years by listening to other attorneys, attending seminars and researching the benefits to my clients of harnessing technology driven business solutions. To my knowledge I am the only Rhode Island Divorce Lawyer who has taken the concept to this degree.
Though complete transposition of my Rhode Island divorce practice will still not be fully effective for another six to eight months, the benefits both for me and for my clients are more immediate and nothing short of staggering.
Yet in the same instance a call I received from a prospective client recently gave me a glimpse of the concerns clients will have despite the benefits clients receive some of which are virtually unbelievable (no pun intended) as compared to the traditional practitioners who cling tightly to typewriters, secretaries, paper files and computerless office structures!
I received a call from a gentleman who was in the midst of a divorce but was questioning whether he chose the right attorney. This by itself is not surprising, it happens frequently especially when retainer funds appear to last a short period of time in comparison to the client's expectations.
In this case the gentleman was being charged $200 per hour which is roughly the going rate for an attorney experienced in the practice of law and particularly in the practice of divorce law. However, this gentleman expressed that he was six (6) to eight weeks into his case and he believed that roughly $4,000 or sot had been expended on his case. The gentleman stated that numerous petty issues had come up and his attorney was trying to deal with them through letters and phone calls but that his attorney seemed to be stonewalled (for lack of a better term) by the opposing counsel.
The crux of this man's call was whether this was common, whether he was getting reasonably accurate advice and whether he should get another lawyer. I explained to him that it was not necessarily common that various minor issues would become so costly early on in the case but that it could happen. We discussed the advice that he was given, matters which are confidential and therefore will not be mentioned here, and whether he should retain another attorney because of the cost. I explained to the gentleman that I understood his frustration and was unfamiliar with the lawyer he had chosen but that at $200 per hour it only took 5 hours of the attorney's time to go through $1,000 of his retainer and that 20 hours spent on a divorce case was not unreasonable at the going rate for experienced attorneys.
Then the man asked me what I do and what makes me different. This was the first time a prospective client had actually asked me about my Virtual Office concept and what it entailed. Needless to say, though I was excited about explaining my office concept the client was skeptical because the rate the client was paying would be substantially lower than what he was currently being charged.
The explanation went something like this. For the sake of discussion let's assume the man's name is Jared.
What I've done here Jared is nothing short of eliminating my overhead and then harnessing technology to do the work for me. I have no secretary so my client's don't have to pay for one. I work out of a home office where I have everything I need. You get telephone access just like any other traditional attorney. I have a dedicated fax line just like any other attorney. I have email that is checked 5 to 10 times per day if not more and clients can get
hold of me. I have high speed broadband internet access for legal research, email and soon dedicated website tools will allow my clients so receive documents on their case literally within hours and sometimes even minutes after I receive them by mail or when I send documents to the court. This eliminates 90% of postage costs, envelopes, toner and even paper supplies. Clients can interact with me on the telephone and it doesn't cost them any more on an hourly basis because I absorb the costs, even if they are long distance.
Several months from now, if people don't know how to use these services, I intend to have live streaming tutorials that can take them through it step by step. My clients can see me interact regarding their case if I send them a video message or see my picture on one of my websites while talking to me.
Jared was concerned. He felt his matter deserved a more personal approach and he wanted to be able to come to an office and meet with his attorney. I explained that I was in the process of finalizing arrangements with a local colleage to utilize a spare room for those clients who wanted a traditional sit down meeting and that was certainly possible because I realized that for some clients this might be too much of a shift.
Jared expressed that he wasn't really comfortable with the whole Virtual Office concept because he didn't see his attorney as a real attorney with an office and a sign on the door. In the end Jared said, it sounds too good to be true and if it sounds that way, it usually is. I continued to explain.
Jared, my concept isn't for everyone. I'm an innovator and though I could take this innovation and keep my rates the same, I've chosen not to do that. It doesn't help people if I do that. All it would do is put money in my pocket. Don't get me wrong. We could all used a little more money. Yet people are hurting right now. They are hurting for money and if they are going to go through a divorce they are hurting both financially and emotionally. I know plenty of attorneys who have told me I'll fail at this. Why? Here I am
using the best of technology, cutting my rates to such an extent that you tell me it looks too good to be true. Well, people can't have it both ways. You can hire an experienced lawyer with tons of overhead expenses and pay $200, $300 or even $350 an hour and all you are doing is paying the attorneys' expenses and putting extra money in his or her pocket to support a fancier lifestyle with a BMW or a Mercedes, OR you can hire a new breed of attorney, one who is not only experienced, but who has taken technology to its very limits and give you a rate and payment blocks that the other traditional lawyers laugh about.
I've been through a divorce. I know what the rates are. I know the players and I'm an innovator. I've done this for my present clients and my future clients and if the truth be told, I've been doing most of it for the past year but still paying all the expenses for a physical office with extra amenities so client's feel comfortable. In the end, clients are more secure with me than they are going into the nice office I just shut down. Why, because they pay for me and my experience. They don't get nickel and dimed for every little thing. They know from day one what to expect and I don't let them down.
I'm a Rhode Island attorney, yet I've had clients in and from Texas, Florida, Costa Rica, Virginia, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Indiana, Massachusetts, California, Maine, the Dominican Republic, Virginia and more. They reach out to me because harnessing the power of technology works great for them. So why not Rhode Islanders? Why not save $12 on the gas it costs you to drive to a physical office in Cranston or elsewhere in the state when you don't have to. My Virtual Office concept puts money back in your pocket, not mine. I cut my rates. I cut my expenses. I cut my lifestyle. Why? Because people deserve affordable and experienced divorce lawyers.
I'm giving back to the community not because I have to, but because I've been there and I want to. Divorce is hard enough, you don't need to go broke on attorneys too.
Jared, I want you to take a day and think about whether you want a new attorney or not and whether you feel comfortable with me and what we've discussed today. I'm not a sales person and I don't beg for anyone's business. If you want to hire me, great! I'm in your corner. If you want to remain with your current attorney then I wish you my very best and I hope you get through this and end up with a great life ahead of you.
Jared thanked me, said "It still sounds too good to be true.", and said he would consider it.
My only question (though long and drawn out) is this?
Does what I offer sound too good to be true because attorneys are expected to charge huge rates and ask for large retainers, OR do people really think its worth paying their attorney an extra $100, $200 or even $250 per hour not for their legal expertise but rather for their attorney to pay for the upkeep on a fancy office, a top notch secretary, an office manager, a water cooler, their utilities, legal research services, a billing coordinator, a paralegal, an accountant, an IT Specialist to keep their computers running, and a person to maintain their landscaping outside the building?
Christopher A. Pearsall, Esquire
70 Dogwood Drive, Suite 304
West Warwick, RI 02893
Call (401) 632-6976 Now for your low-cost consultation.
Rhode Island's Most Affordable Divorce & Family Law* Attorney
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Copyright 2008. Christopher A. Pearsall, Attorney-at-Law
*The Rhode Island Supreme Court licenses all attorneys in the general practice of law.
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