Many middle-income people seeking a divorce can't afford to hire a lawyer but aren't poor enough to qualify for legal aid. Michael and Shelia Manely hope to fill this gap with a new kind of family law firm, the Justice Café.
Located a block from the Fulton County, Ga., Superior Courthouse, the Justice Café will charge $75 an hour for a la carte help in divorces and other family law matters, with no retainer up front, unlike most family law firms.
The storefront space at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Peachtree Street will take walk-in clients who want to handle their divorce themselves but need some guidance from a lawyer. Clients can pay for either general advice or specific tasks, such as drafting an answer to a complaint or representation at a 30-day hearing.
The typical client will engage a Justice Café lawyer for 10 or fewer hours, said Michael Manely.
"If they need more than 10 hours of help, then they probably need a full-service approach," said Manely, whose Marietta, Ga.-based practice, The Manely Firm, has specialized in full-service family law for about a decade.
Firms offering walk-in, a la carte family law services have sprung up in other parts of the country, but Manely said this is a first for Georgia.
The lawyers staffing the Justice Café will work on contract and collect half the $75 hourly fee. The other half will cover overhead. At $37.50 an hour, a lawyer billing 30 hours per week can earn an annual gross salary of about $55,000.
The Manelys think this arrangement will attract both new law school graduates seeking work and experienced lawyers who don't want the hassle of running their own shops.
"It's a way to serve people on Main Street," said Michael Manely. "There is no reason a working man or woman should not have access to legal services."