I often wonder if any other family law practitioners find themselves in the same predicament as I – middle class family, small retainer with not much more to come, and some serious issues.  How can you most effectively represent your client when you simply do not have the funding to do so?  One option is to work for free.  That, I do not recommend as it will lead to other snarls and snares with the client that I will not venture into here.

A few quick ideas that I have employed when you client is not the CEO of a Fortune 500 Company with limitless resources:

1.  Give the client homework.  The best way to save some money and time is to have the client obtain all necessary records that may be relevant to the case.  This typically includes the educational and medical records of the children.  The chances that the doctor will charge the parent vs. the lawyer are far less.  Just be sure to instruct the client to obtain certified copies.  If your client cannot obtain the records, be sure to have him/her execute the HIPPA release directly with the provider.  Many healthcare providers have their own specific forms.  My advice, no matter how good you think your release may be, use the provider’s form release. This will save time.   

Bank Accounts are another source of information relevant to the divorce process that your client may already have access to.  Many divorcing couples have joint accounts. Simply have the client go on-line and down load to a zip drive as far back as the bank has stored.  This will avoid costs (and time) in sending the subpoena to the bank.  

2.  Use requests for admissions when you cannot use depositions.  Let’s face it, most divorce cases are he said, she said with no known “truth.”  So, instead of the costly deposition, use the tool of Requests for Admissions to at the very least nail down the facts you need for trial.  Yes, we have all be taught that we should not ask a question we do not know the answer to.  However, when you are working with a limited budget the Request for Admission may serve the same purpose as the deposition and cost far less.  Plus, this will ensure you know the facts of the case intimately as the requests should be tailored to the issue you desire to flesh out.   I find Request for Admission to be most effective after having already served one round of discovery (interrogatories and request for documents).

3.  Know the Facts of the case.  Knowing the facts of any case is (or should be) at the heart of what we do.  Sounds simple enough.  But, let’s be honest, sometimes we find ourselves not knowing the entire story.  My trial practice professor in law school at Syracuse used to say, you should make your closing to the jury without anything in your hand, including that yellow pad – it’s distracting to you and to them.  You should know your facts so well that you do not need it.  Knowing the facts of any case, intimately, will help you hone the questions for discovery or at trial.  This in turn saves time and money because that big fishing expedition has now become like a heat seeking missile.  Trust me, opposing counsel and his/her client will be caught off guard.  Do not be complacent with your cases.

4.  Social Media.  Who needs a private investigator when we have Facebook?  Don’t get me wrong, PI’s are invaluable.  However, when your client does not have the funds to pay someone to follow their spouse around; jump on the internet.  I highly advise doing this quickly as my first instruction to clients is always to shut the page down!  But, many do not give this advice or their clients simply do not follow it.  Scan Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and see what emerges.  You may be surprised. 

5.  Utilize Local On-Line Court Dockets.   Background checks may be expensive as well.  But, there are plenty of free resources available. I have found many TPO’s; misdemeanor cases and other family matters by simply having my paralegal search the local County online docket systems.  The Federal Court’s also have an on-line system: PACER.  This comes with a cost, which is nominal, but can be valuable to for searching for valuable information.  Bankruptcies are a good example. This is very helpful information when cross examining a parent who may not be entirely honest about their income or assets. Remember, people file bankruptcy for many reasons.  The Federal System uses efile and thus their sworn income is readily available for download in pdf form.  Should you need to use the information in Court, do not forget to obtain a certified copy from the clerk.  But, a good ole request for admission may clear that up.

Denise D. VanLanduyt, Esq. is both a certified Mediator and a certified Arbitrator. Licensed to practice law since 2000, Ms. VanLanduyt has almost 12 years experience as a family law attorney. She is a founding member of the Family Law Section of the DeKalb Bar Association. Ms. VanLanduyt is a frequent speaker on topics related to family law.