Frederick said there have been only two cases before the state bar's disciplinary board in 11 years over unbundled matters. In both cases, the limitation on the engagement was unreasonable, which left the client stranded.
The chief judge for Fulton Superior Court's family law division, Gail Tusan, said having a lawyer provide even limited assistance could be "very worthwhile," if it better prepares the people who appear in her courtroom.
Like Fredericks, Tusan said her main concern is "making sure that the court and the client are clear on what services are being provided and that the termination of the services doesn't adversely affect the court's ability to move the case along and finalize it."
She noted that Fulton Superior Court has a Family Law Information Center to help pro se litigants prepare their cases, and it annually receives about 1,100 walk-in visitors and a similar number of phone calls. The center offers information and forms for various causes of action filed in the family law division as well as a free consultation with a lawyer.
It uses contract lawyers who offer general guidance but do not perform specific tasks. Consultations, which must be scheduled in advance, are limited to a half hour.
"Despite all the information that's available, the average self-represented litigant comes to court anxious about not having a lawyer," said Tusan. "They have not necessarily completed the required documents at all, or correctly, and are often unable to communicate well with the other side."
For example, parties without counsel often don't prepare mandatory discovery forms before appearing in court, she said. "If a lawyer can help clients with this, that's good."
The storefront space for the Justice Café still has mirrors and changing cubicles from its days as a dress shop selling fancy suits and hats to well-dressed church ladies.
The Manelys and Velez plan to have it ready to open for walk-in business in December.