We literally get calls every single day from women asking whether we will take their cases pro bono. I’m not sure where this all got started, but the reality is that we really can’t take entire cases pro bono. That doesn’t mean that your case isn’t serious, or that your financial situation isn’t bleak. It doesn’t mean that you’re not deserving, and it certainly doesn’t mean that we are uncaring. In fact, one of the things that I love the most about the group of people that I work with here (and the reason that I’ve stayed for so long) is that this is, hands down, the most caring group of people I’ve ever been fortunate enough to know.
Still, though, taking entire cases on pro bono is logistically and financially difficult, and it’s really not something that any lawyers that I know of actually do. I’m not saying that just within my firm I don’t know attorneys who take cases pro bono; outside of my firm, I don’t know attorneys who do it, either. (And, of course, even if they did, they’d have to take a seriously, seriously limited number of them.)
Everyone wants a pro bono lawyer. But, really, almost no one takes entire cases on pro bono. (And the only reason I say “almost no one” is because, though I personally know of no one, the lawyer in me can’t totally discount the possibility that there might be an exception to the rule somewhere.) It’s just not a thing that happens—at least, not that I know of.
If I really, really need a pro bono lawyer, what should I do?
You can call around to different law firms if you want, but I doubt if you’ll be successful. The only place I know of for sure that takes pro bono cases on is Legal Aid. To get a Legal Aid attorney to represent you, you’ll have to qualify—which means that your income will have to be incredibly low. I’m not entirely sure what the threshold is, but you’ll definitely want to touch base with them just in case to see whether you qualify.
It’s my understanding that, at Legal Aid, if you meet the income threshold, you’ll automatically qualify for some services. The question is just what the extent of those services might be. Some people get a consultation with a Legal Aid attorney, other people are represented pro bono. I think the difference in treatment (though, again, you’ll have to talk to someone at Legal Aid to get more information) depends on the type of case involved and the case load of the office at the time. As you can imagine, Legal Aid attorneys are in high demand, so they’re often working with incredibly high case loads without sufficient funding. They’re good attorneys, but there’s no question that they are spread pretty thinly. The majority of the time, they take uncontested (meaning cases where an agreement can be reached, rather than one where tons of litigation is required) cases. Why? Because the attorney can take on MORE cases if they’re uncontested and represent more people—which is a good use of available resources.
It may not seem like a good use of resources from your perspective, though, especially if your case is contested. No matter how much easier it would make things if your case were uncontested, if it’s contested and that’s just the way it is, you’re going to have to work with that assumption in mind. I don’t know attorneys who are taking on pro bono contested cases for divorce or custody, but you can always call around and see whether it’s possible. And, of course, the ones that DO do work pro bono are probably doing it, for the most part, for friends and acquaintances, rather than total strangers. So, obviously, if you know an attorney who practices family law, you might want to reach out to them first.
Don’t be surprised, though, if the answer is no. Definitely have a back up plan!
Legal Aid won’t help, but I still need legal help. Where can I turn?
There’s not an awesome answer in a situation like this, make no mistake. I don’t have a magic want that I can wave that will make a pro bono divorce or custody attorney appear where otherwise no one existed. I do, however, know of some resources that can help educate you on the divorce and custody processes in the Virginia courts, and give you information about the options available to you.
1. Free divorce and custody books.
There’s no way around it. If you can’t find an attorney to take your case for free, you’re going to have to be proactive about getting the information you need to make choices in your case. There’s no way you can help yourself without giving yourself a bit of education on family law—but, luckily for you, there are a couple of awesome resources available that can help you jump start your family law education. We’ve already taken the liberty of cultivating some of the more relevant and helpful pieces of information you’ll need so that you don’t have to go to law school, scour the Virginia code, or sit in the courtroom watching a bunch of hearings to gain the requisite expertise.
If yours is a divorce case, you’ll want our free divorce book. If you’re military, you should get the military version.
If yours is a custody case, you’ll want our custody book.
Each of these books is unique in that it’s written by a licensed, experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorney with experience representing women exclusively in family law cases. We’ve taken hours and hours of our time to put together these books with all the information we’ve gathered in years of practice to help make things easier for you, whether you ultimately decide to hire an attorney or try to go at it on your own.
Along those same lines, we also have a book designed for women who are trying to delve deeply into all the options available to them. Even if you know that hiring an attorney is absolutely out of the question for you (and there’s not a problem at all if that’s the case), you’ll want more information about do it yourself choices you can make in your divorce or custody case.
You’ll want to request our book to learn more about the options available to you in your case as it relates to hiring an attorney or representing yourself.
3. Attend a seminar.
Books not answering all of your questions? That’s fine. (You should still read them, though, because they’re an important primer and can help educate you on things you didn’t know you didn’t know, or questions that you didn’t realize you should be asking.) Sometimes there’s no substitute for having a live person to whom you can ask your questions.
If your case is a divorce case, you’ll want more information about our Second Saturday seminar on What Every Virginia Woman Needs to Know About Divorce. It’s an hour and a half long, taught by one of our attorneys, and offers an opportunity for Q&A. Not only that, but it’s competitively priced ($40 if you pre-register, or $50 if you pay at the door), and chock full of the most commonly asked questions we get in divorce and custody cases.
We’ve also got a custody seminar, Custody Bootcamp for Moms, designed to help teach Virginia moms what they can do if they’re representing themselves in a custody, visitation, or child support case at the juvenile court level. There’s no other seminar of it’s kind (and certainly no other similar seminar for dads); it simply can’t be beat. For more information or to request a free copy of our report, “Can I REALLY Represent Myself in a Custody Case?” click here.
4. Meet with an attorney
You don’t have to hire an attorney to meet with one, to have one review your separation agreement, or to ask your questions as they come up. You can meet with an attorney hourly, on an as-needed basis. If you’re just stuck on one particular part of your case, it can be a great way to consult with an attorney and get un-stuck!
The Virginia rules allow a person to represent herself in a Virginia divorce or custody case; there’s no requirement for any of these cases that you hire an attorney. Some cases are more complicated than others, of course, and may make it more or less appealing to handle on your own, but these are some resources that can help you if you’re trying to figure out what choices you should be making in your case. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of pro bono help out there, but that doesn’t mean you should walk blindly into the courtroom either. We’re here to help, and you should definitely take advantage of the resources we offer. For more information or to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.