There is a new way to reduce legal costs. Law firms prepare the case and coach their clients, who then defend themselves – without a lawyer – in court.
PARIS - Leïla Foudil bought a new Opel car for 24,000 euros three years ago, but the vehicle kept breaking down and she had to spend 3,000 euros for repairs. It's a familiar story with a familiar dilemma. "Everyone told me to sue the car dealer, but I didn't know how to do it. A lawyer is expensive. And how do I find the right one?"
Foudil posted questions on car owner Internet forums and found out that very few drivers dare suing auto manufacturers. "I also googled ‘cheap lawyer" or ‘discount legal services' and it turned out it would cost me about 2,000 euros!" she recalls.
Someone then told her about Jean Alexandre Buchinger, a Parisian lawyer and founder of a "legal coaching" network who told her to file an emergency procedure requesting the court to appoint an expert on the case.
Buchinger offered to prepare the legal case, but told Foudil that she could defend herself in court. The total price: 900 euros. "They told me what to expect at the hearing, and what I should do," she said. "I was quite at ease, actually. The judge and the lawyer of General Motors even asked me if I was a lawyer!"
Foudil managed to obtain the appointment of an expert, who in turn found a latent defect in the vehicle.
The Legal Coaching Network (Coachingjudiciaire.com), which has about 40 members in France, offers to cut legal costs by letting their clients handle their case on their own once inside the courtroom. "You don't have to bill the time spent in transportation or waiting in court lobbies during deliberation," Buchinger explains.
Paying for the services of attorneys is "two or three times cheaper" if they do not have to show up in court. "Actually, in most cases – with the exception of criminal cases – the key element is the content of the case, not the quality of the argument," Buchinger adds. "We prepare the case with all the documents and evidence, we file all the forms necessary, and we prepare a note for the client to read on the day of the hearing." Videos of mock trials can also be watched on the website.
On the first appointment, a lawyer offers a detailed quote of services, at a 240 euros per hour basis. For instance, the lawyer can bill two hours of work for someone who wants to recover a debt that someone owes them: one hour to prepare the case and one hour to actually file the procedure in court and at the bailiff's. A landowner whose tenant is failing to pay the rent will probably be billed with three hours of work: preparing and sending the summons to pay, filing the procedure in court, etc.
Legal coaching is a possibility in French cases where a lawyer is not compulsory, including such non-criminal procedures as bankruptcy, administrative, district and family courts (except for divorce cases). Buchinger advises not to go in court "alone" if you are the defendant, and he insists that "it is better to have a lawyer from the beginning until the end of the procedure."
Legal fees are a particular problem for people who earn between 1,500 and 4,000 euros a month, because they are not entitled to legal aid (which is available for people making less than 930 euros). The system pushes this segment of the population to defend themselves on their own by providing them with paperwork to fill in order to file a lawsuit. "But most of the time, they are courting disaster when they know neither law nor case law," Buchinger says.For these people, legal coaching may be just what the doctor ordered.
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