I am a Florida legal document preparer and the statewide Director of the Florida Association of Legal Document Preparers (FALDP). I am not a paralegal. By definition, paralegals work directly under the supervision of an attorney, I do not. I work directly for consumers who are representing themselves in a court case. Self-represented consumers are called pro se litigants. I call these consumers customers. I don't call them clients, mostly because that's what attorneys call their customers, and I don't want to be anything like or run my business anything like an attorney.
In fact, I go to great pains to not operate like an attorney. Most importantly, I don't give legal advice. My customers always know that I'm not an attorney. In fact, they cannot avoid knowing that I'm not an attorney. My business is virtual, everything I do is over the phone and over the internet. I never meet with my customers face to face. In the first telephone conversation I have with any new or potential customer, I say: As you probably know, I'm not an attorney, I'm a Florida legal document preparer. And what that means is I can prepare documents, explain procedure, and give you legal information, but I cannot provide advice or representation. Frequently I have to interrupt my new or potential customer to get those words said.
The potential customer called with a question. They almost always begin the conversation with – I have a question. After I say my thirty second speech, I then say – and I'll answer your question as I can. They they ask the question, which frequently begins with – how much would you charge – for whatever it is that they need.
I listen to what they need, may ask a few questions for clarity, and then tell them what I charge. This is not called a consultation and is especially not called a “free consultation” although that is exactly what it is. It is called a conversation. Document preparers are specifically prohibited from offering free consultations according to Florida case law which found that a “free consultation” is something that an attorney offers and does, and document preparers are not allowed to offer or do free consultations because a free consultation amounts to the unauthorized practice of law (UPL). Go figure. So its called a conversation.
After the conversation, I request the consumer's email address and tell them, my next step is to send them an email which will include a summary of this conversation, all of my contact information, a price quote, and a link to my website. I tell them they can submit payment on my site through paypal.
The email I send always says the same thing, except for the exact type of service they requested varies according to their request. For example, if the consumer wants a divorce and has children, my email says.
I'm following up our phone conversation for document preparation for a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with Children. As we discussed, my fee is $255 for the petition documents; and an additional $75 for the Parenting Plan. Please visit my site to learn more about my services – www.for-the-people-of-Florida.com – and you can submit payment on my site with a credit or debit card through paypal whenever you're ready.
Thank you for the opportunity to assist you.
In the signature of my email I include these words: I am not an attorney and do not provide legal advice. When a customer goes to my site he sees those words again. Before the customer submits payment he is required to click a box to acknowledge that he has read my disclaimer, disclosure, and site policies. Without clicking the box, he cannot arrive at the payment page. The disclaimer, disclosure and site policies are here - http://www.for-the-people-of-florida.com/disclaimer-and-disclosure.php
After the customer pays, I intake the information I need to prepare their documents. If the customer wants divorce documents prepared or any other type of family law documents prepared, I set up a phone appointment so that I can intake their information during a phone call. Forms for family law are on the Florida Supreme Court's site – www.flcourts.org – and the rule is that when a document preparer is using Florida Supreme Court approved forms, she can intake the information verbally. So that's what I do. Family law forms are nearly the only Florida Supreme Court approved forms in existence. Even forms for federal filings such as bankruptcy and immigration are not considered Florida Supreme Court approved forms.
I don't prepare forms for bankruptcy or immigration. I do, however, prepare other types of forms which are not Florida Supreme Court approved. I prepare documents for Early Termination of Probation, a few Expunge & Seal, Answers for civil court, and Summary Administration of Estate. For all of these I intake the customer's information in writing. Exactly how that works is the subject of another article which will be coming soon.
The reason I'm writing this series of articles is that I want to make it clear to consumers, potential customers, attorneys, and the Florida Bar exactly what I do. I also want everyone to understand why I do what I do. I am for the little guy. I am for the downtrodden. I am for the consumer who needs documents and hiring an attorney is out of the question. I am for justice.