Sunday, December 12, 2010

Be Careful When Searching for New Business Models

Someone called a few weeks ago to ask my opinion of his thoughts on becoming a Legal Document Assistant after he was laid off in his job as an engineer.  I wrote back offering the honest truth, "I wouldn't recommend this field to anyone right now.  It's a waste of time and money in this economy."  I hope the guy appreciates I potentially saved him a lot of time and money with such advice but I never heard back.   I'm sure he was disappointed.  We're all looking for ways to overcome the current economic situation. 

I thought I'd take this opportunity to offer the reason why I started a legal services business and why people should invest more time and research than I did prior to investing time and money into a new business model.   After a year, my business model is clearly a case for the best selling book Rework.

Here's my little business start-up story I hope some find helpful:

When I first considered opening my business At Your Service Legal Document Prep (AYSLDP) as a registered Legal Document Assistant it seemed the logical thing to do.  For those unaware, LDA's formerly were referred to as independent paralegals. A law in the 90's changed the profession by separating paralegals, those under the supervision of attorneys, from LDA's who are really glorified typists of self-represented people's legal forms. What I later learned was that being an LDA was a lot more complicated than just typing forms since the work involved far more legal skills and knowledge than I initially thought. 

After working 10 years at law firms as a legal word processor I thought it would be a breeze typing legal forms for people.  After investing $4,200 in a nationally accredited paralegal certificate program from National Paralegal College, I obtained a paralegal certificate. The logical progression seemed for me to begin a business helping self-represented people.

David vs. Goliath - Most Attorneys Are a Pain in the Ass as a Nuisance & Plague on Society
My vision for my business involved a form of social conscious evolution in offering an alternative to high lawyer's fees for people who really couldn't afford them for non-complex legal issues.  I've been ripped off several times by attorneys in my life, and most all of them were much like parasites sniffing for easy money who performed very little work.  In many cases attorneys are nothing more than glorified criminal pundits for a criminal syndicate government overseen by many corrupt judges.  Such is why as a whole I hate these lawyer parasites who drain wealth from Americans as a whole.  I thought I could somehow help to begin to turn the tide. Here's what I learned.

I Learned the San Francisco Superior Court Is a Fine Tuned Money Making Machine Under The Careful Watch of Its Overseers
For the past year since I began helping the public as an LDA I learned the San Francisco Superior Court and city is hostile to my profession.  San Francisco is one of the few cities that has a strong self-help center where government uses tax payer's money to help people fill out their legal forms.  The San Francisco Superior Court has preempted Legal Document Assistants by offering free services for low income people to fill out their divorce forms and restraining order cases.  What this means is when an LDA turns in their work on behalf of their clients, the San Francisco Superior Court can play politics and throw anything out they wouldn't otherwise do.

This kind of highly political court system protective of its own interests potentially places my clients at a disadvantage.  For instance, judges and court clerks often make note of who prepared a pro se's divorce documents.  LDA's must stamp their work for the court to see.  The judge and clerks can potentially ask, "why wasn't it prepared by the court's self-help center?" This question is where the barrier to an LDA first begins.  The court wants low income people to use their tax funded self-help center to keep everything under the court's watch and umbrella.  If people don't use the city's self-help center, the government would revoke funding and that would put people out of jobs.

When it finally dawned on me how aware the court system is of the potential threat of LDA's to their tax payer funded self-help center, I realized it's practically a rigged game.  Everything is so under the careful watch of those who monitor their well oiled money making machine!  (See post New Evidence of San Francisco Superior Court Corruption) Their court system is what a doctor is to a patient, and its overseers are always looking for ways to feed and keep it alive in these poor economic times. I personally don't want to experiment and observe any damage a politically influenced court would have over my client's divorce case.  I've already taken a couple blows from this court personally based on attorney mischief and that's enough of an indicator for me the court makes decisions based on politics whenever possible.  In other words, the court acts only in its best interests and on behalf of its local legal community as its overlord.

Breaking Even Working One's Ass Off Just Doesn't Cut It
In September, 2010, I attended the California Association of Legal Document Assistant (CALDA) conference at Pacific Grove, CA where I stayed at the infamous Asilomar Conference Center.  At the conference I spoke with some of the best LDA's in the business.  There I learned word-of-mouth that business was way down for some due to the economy.  One long time LDA who specialized in divorces even concentrated on a new business after her's dropped off by 70%.  Another LDA in Los Angeles only broke even in his second year of business who works very hard on living trusts for people.  He's about to take the State Bar and get out of the work.

Paralegals Are Infringing on the LDA Profession as Noted on Craigslist
I also noted the lack of regulation and oversight of paralegals (not LDA's) in advertising on Craigslist taking business away from registered LDA's.  Nothing's being done about it.  If I'm required to follow the laws that limit my earning potential, only for paralegals who work for attorneys to have a part time business doing my kind of work, it's obvious this LDA work in San Francisco isn't a good business model.  The only LDA's doing good business are those well established in divorces.  Divorces are a goldmine for some well established LDA businesses.  Some LDA's have said it takes 3-5 years to build a long term profitable business in this field. No thanks!

Rework author Jason Fried gives his presentation on why the office is the worst place to work.  This is true, but make sure to choose the right business model prior to leaving a well paying office job.

Time For a Rework - Throwing It In the Trash Can
In retrospect, my business should have been more carefully evaluated on paper, then into the trash can as a bad idea.  Regardless, I don't regret being an LDA, it was an experience I learned from.  I met a few nice people and saved one mother thousands of dollars by filing a default divorce for her for $300.  What clearly drove me to this work was my dread of attorneys and motivation to help people save money from attorney fees.

My LDA registration expires in March, 2011. I have no plans to renew it.  Until such time, I'm currently accepting only limited cases in this work such as for deed transfers or retrieving public court records for people out of state.  I'm currently working on my final divorce case.