The need is there. The majority of people seeking divorces in Georgia do so without a lawyer -- and the number has increased with the recession.
In about 60 percent of the state's family law cases the litigants are pro se, according to research from the Georgia Superior Court Clerks' Cooperative Authority. And in 2010, 60 percent of civil cases filed in Georgia Superior Courts were family law matters -- 177,816 cases, according to an American Bar Association study.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of lawyers who need work. The Manelys hope to put the two together.
In the wake of the recession, said Shelia Manely, who is The Manely Firm's business manager, she and her husband see too many lawyers chasing too few jobs serving the "1 percent" -- wealthy individuals and corporations -- while regular people can't find affordable lawyers.
They want to bridge the gap. "We want to get real attorneys back on Main Street helping real people," she said.
The idea for the Justice Café has been brewing for several years.
Shelia Manely's goal as The Manely Firm's business manager is to keep costs down and offer affordable legal help to middle-income clients.
She said the firm does a volume practice rather than targeting wealthy individuals. Clients are charged a $3,650 retainer -- compared with the $7,500 to $20,000 that other local family law firms require up front.
But she said many prospective clients still can't afford The Manely Firm, while there are more pro se divorce litigants in court than ever since the recession hit in 2008.