Getting free legal help may sound like the impossible dream. I’m here to tell you, it isn’t. How do I know? Because I’ve had the free legal help. It’s not easy to get but, with determination and pride cast aside, it is possible. Let me take you through the three avenues of free legal help available to any mother representing herself at family court.
Pro-Bono is Latin for, done without charge. This option is a law firm taking on your case and offering to represent you without receiving payment. Surprising though it may seem, there are legal professionals who give their time for free. Getting help Pro-Bono requires a ‘don’t ask, don’t get’ approach. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to write a really good letter.
What should the letter say?
Your letter is your story and the facts of your case. Your letter needs to leave it’s reader feeling compelled to help. What makes your case different? Put yourself in legal shoes, why does your case warrant free help? Your individual circumstances will need to be unique for a solicitor to represent you for free.
To the outside world your ex is the perfect partner and father. However, behind the scenes you are a broken woman. You ended your relationship because it was mentally and emotionally abusive. Your ex was controlling and dominated every aspect of your life, and your child’s life. Since the relationship has ended he has continued his abuse and controlling behaviour with you and your child. For your own sanity and the mental well-being of your child, you’ve stopped contact. Your ex has applied to the family courts for shared-residency, accusing you of parental alienation. There’s been no physical violence so you never thought to report your ex to the police. (In the UK, no record of domestic violence means that you do not qualify for legal-aid.) You feel that you cannot adequately represent yourself because of the mental and emotional damage done to you by your ex. You simply don’t have the strength to summon the warrior woman within.
This is a unique set of circumstances and there is clearly a case to be heard. Written in the right way, the facts of this case have the potential to provoke a response. The purpose of your letter is to convince a solicitor to help you for free. Put yourself in their shoes, does your case warrant free help? If the answer is yes, write your letter and send it out. After all, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
2. Face-to-face Advice
Wherever you live, there will be a law firm that offers a free initial appointment. From the solicitor’s perspective it is worthwhile giving you a free hour of their time. They have the opportunity to build a rapport with you. In other words, they can subtly convince you to use their firm. However, just like any other service that you pay for, you are under no obligation to commit there and then. It’s because of this that the solicitor will have their best foot forward at your free initial appointment. You can gather a lot of useful information for yourself.
In offering their services, the solicitor will tell you the strengths of your case. They will highlight any weaknesses, likely outcomes and their plan of action. In short, during your appointment you could find out everything you need to know in order to represent yourself. The plan of action that they would take is the plan of action that you can take for yourself.
Making the most of the free legal help
Be prepared. Take a notebook and a pen that works. At the beginning of the appointment ask if they mind you taking notes. Prepare what you are going to say in advance to avoid wasting the hour over-talking. The solicitor will want to know the facts of the case. Take the relevant paperwork. If there are specific questions you need answers to, write them down so you don’t forget. At the end of the appointment thank them for their time and let them know you’ll be in touch. You can call them back to let them know you’ve decided to represent yourself, if you like – they might offer more advice. But don’t feel the pressure of having to. Let it go, there is no crime in exploring your options.
3. Email Assistance
This type of help rests upon the law of averages. Send out ten emails in the hope of getting at least one reply. The odds may not sound in your favour but believe me, the one reply could be invaluable to your case. The email that you’ll send out is similar to the Pro-Bono letter but shorter. Lay out the facts of your case and ask for the advice that you need. What are the strengths of your case? What are the weaknesses?
Some will reply, some will not. One might go above and beyond the call of duty…
The Tale of Rosemary’s Missing Gold
In the weeks before my court date I couldn’t speak without crying. Unfortunately, I didn’t know about the free initial appointment. I trawled the family law firms in my area filled with emotion and water streaming from my eyes. I would have been grateful for any scrap of help thrown to me but it didn’t happen.
Since I’d exhausted the law firms in my area, I decided to widen the net. I emailed law firms within thirty miles of where I live and hoped for the best. Out of the ten emails I sent: eight didn’t reply, one replied detailing services they could offer for a fee and one replied offering more help than I could have ever hoped for. The solicitor’s name was Rosemary.
Rosemary highlighted the strengths in my case, and that gave the points to build my case around. She drew my attention to the weaknesses – this allowed me to prepare answers for everything. Rosemary told me to keep my first statement to one page – this told me that the right word in the right place is top priority. Finally, Rosemary told me that my case was strong. She saw no reason I couldn’t present it to the magistrates without a solicitor. The email from Rosemary gave me the advice I needed and the confidence to carry on. Though I never took her up on the offer, Rosemary offered to reply to any further questions I had via email.
The missing gold?
Well, I represented myself, the case came to an end and life went on. A few months later Rosemary emailed me to find out how things went. We mused over whether there is such a thing as success at family court (that’s for another post). I detailed how invaluable her advice had been to me and I offered to pay her. Rosemary, bless her, politely refused. Instead of paying her, she suggested I make a small donation to a a charity she supported. I’m ashamed to admit that the charity has seen none of my money to this day. That’s the tale of Rosemary’s missing gold.
That’s not to say her gold will forever stay missing…
Have you had free legal help? How’d you get it?
For more information on finding legal help check out: Personal Support Unit; Who, What, Where and Why?
Amazing things can happen when women support each other.
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