My name is David Mercer, and this is AZ 3D Law's very first blog post, so I thought it would be fitting to start with an introduction. I wanted to let people know why AZ 3D Law was founded, and why I chose to focus it on the "three Ds" instead of something else.
I knew I wanted to start my own law firm before I ever went to law school, but I wasn't really sure what I would do with it or how I would set it up. I would have probably followed in the footsteps of so many other lawyers - set up a PLLC, maximize profits/minimize expenses, try to rake in the cash - if I hadn't read an American Bar Association article about a law firm in Utah that set itself up as a sliding scale nonprofit law firm. That firm, Open Legal Services, was founded by people who were fresh out of law school and were determined to start a "legal revolution" by making basic legal services affordable to people that didn't qualify for free services. When I read that article I realized the brilliance of their idea and decided I needed to do something similar here in Arizona.
You see, in law school I had the chance to do a lot of volunteer work. I worked as an extern for the Probate Lawyers Assistance Project here in Maricopa County. The people that run the Probate Lawyers Assistance Project are great individuals and they manage to help a lot of people, but the program is geared toward providing 30 minute consultations with people that have issues related to probate, guardianship, conservatorship, or trust litigation. The lawyers are able to give the people who come to them some excellent guidance, but when that 30 minutes ends those people are on their own again. There are other, similar, programs in Maricopa County - for example, Modest Means offers a $75 one hour consultation, but while the project's lawyers can offer services after the consultation at that hourly rate it isn't expected of them. The Family Lawyers Assistance Project, Father Matters, the Bankruptcy Court Self Help Center - they are all designed to give people a brief consultation, but when the consultation ends it is up to those people to tough it out alone.
Now, some of the other volunteer work I did in law school was clinical in nature. I worked with the Arizona Summit Law School Family Law Clinic and the Arizona Summit Law School Bankruptcy and Consumer Debt Clinic. Those clinics went beyond consultations and gave law students a chance to practice law (under the supervision of their clinical law school instructors) and to offer full-scale representation to people that needed it. In other words, we didn't just give people consultations - we went to court and represented people. I felt like this was a really helpful program, because people needed full-scale legal representation, but the program was also very limited. We only offered limited services - for example, we offered family law help but didn't do probate - and only to a small number of people. Besides that, the clinics necessarily ended when a semester ended, which made it difficult to help people with legal issues that lasted longer than a semester (and the frequent staff turnover as students graduated didn't help either). There are some programs that offer full-scale representation (the Volunteer Lawyers Program of Arizona comes to mind) but those programs often serve only individuals falling below 125% of the federal poverty level, which means a lot of people that need help won't qualify for services.
So where did that leave us? There is a diverse array of services that offer consultations but don't go much beyond that, and there are programs and clinics that offer full-scale representation but only to a select few individuals that qualify. That just doesn't seem to work; there are still too many people representing themselves who would love to have legal representation but just can't afford $250-$350/hour with $5,000 upfront. Did you know that over 80% of the people in Maricopa County's family courts represent themselves? Well, now you know why!
Putting together my volunteer experience with the knowledge I gleamed from the American Bar Association article about Open Legal Services (and many articles that followed), I decided to found AZ 3D Law. I wanted to give people a chance to have full-scale legal representation for a price they could afford (based on their ability to pay). The only thing left to do was to decide which services I wanted to offer. I settled on the "three Ds" - death, divorce, and debt - because those are the three things that people have such a hard time dealing with. It is so easy to feel like you have lost control and can't do anything to make things better for yourself when you are dealing with death, or debt, or a divorce. You feel like you are at the mercy of a system you don't understand, and you don't know what you can do to keep your head above water. I get it, and that is why I decided to help with those three things. If I can help lighten someone's burden by handling all the legal aspects of one of the three Ds while they handle the rest of it - well, I'm happy to have done that.
So there you have it, in a nut shell: who we are, and why we came to be. I'm sure the articles that follow will be a bit more interesting, but I wanted to at least introduce ourselves before I got into the really interesting stuff. Thanks for reading!
Some helpful links to things I mentioned in this blog post:
Open Legal Services: http://openlegalservices.org/
Modest Means Project: https://www.azflse.org/modestmeans/
Father Matters: http://fathermatters.org/
Bankruptcy Court Self Help Center: http://www.azb.uscourts.gov/filing-without-attorney
Probate Lawyers Assistance Project: http://www.maricopabar.org/page/PLAP
Family Lawyers Assistance Project: http://www.clsaz.org/flap.html
Volunteer Lawyers Program of Arizona: http://www.clsaz.org/vlp.html