Do It Yourself (DIY) legal services (particularly divorce) has grown with the growth of the internet. The internet has triggered a sea change in the supply chain of many industries. Amazon changed the book and publishing business, as Borders found out. Apple changed the music business, ask any producer of records, tapes or CDs. Service businesses have been effected in a different way, principally by giving users more information to make informed supplier selection, and enough information to make those selections more effective. Our firm welcomes informed clients and urges all clients to learn as much about the law as it applies to their circumstances as possible. This invariably leads to better results and, importantly, lower costs.
DIY divorce has always been an option, particularly for childless couples with a so-called uncontested divorce, one in which the parties have reached agreement on all issues. Not having to hire an attorney obviously reduces the cost of the divorce to both parties. That is the “reward” of DIY legal services. Many couples do this successfully, and the Texas Supreme Court recently made the process easier by standardizing the forms throughout the state.
Now, what is the “risk” of DIY legal services? Our firm recently had a very good example in a case involving something far simpler than any divorce: changing the name of a minor child. In this case, an unmarried couple had a child, the mother had physical custody, and gave the child her last name. As the child approached kindergarten age, the father decided he wanted the child to carry his name and it is quite customary for courts in Texas to grant such requests, e.g. that the child carry the father’s last name.
Armed with this knowledge, the father went to court and represented himself (called pro se in legal terms, perhaps DIY in our terms), and promptly lost. We cannot say precisely why he lost but it’s important for clients to recognize lawyers provide more than legal training and experience. We have an intimate knowledge of the local courts and judges, and are able to use that knowledge to present your circumstances in a way that results in a favorable outcome. Judges are human beings, not computers, and each applies the law is his or her unique way. Clearly, two judges may or may not rule the same way, given the same set of legal circumstances.
DIY can save you money but increases your risk. In some cases, a mistake or error may be harmless. In others, life-changing.