By Terri Jo Neff |
What happens when retaining an attorney is not an option during a divorce, bankruptcy, or other non-criminal type of legal matter? In Arizona, one option is to work with a legal document preparer who is certified under rules adopted by the Arizona Supreme Court.
Legal document preparers may provide general legal information—such as what form is needed and which deadlines apply—but may not give legal advice. All individuals and businesses offering such a service without the supervision of an attorney in good standing with the State Bar of Arizona must satisfactorily pass a Legal Document Preparer Program.
Several attorneys told AZ Free News they regularly refer people to a legal document preparer for matters that don’t necessarily need an attorney, such as an uncontested divorce without children. A legal document preparer is also much better than going it alone when affording an attorney is not an option, they say.
“It’s certainly something attorneys don’t want to publicize, but we would certainly rather see someone have the professional services of a document preparer than try to go it alone in court,” one attorney explained.
There are now dozens of legal document preparers throughout Arizona, all of whom must be certified under rules set forth by the Arizona Supreme Court. Some preparers work for themselves but most are employed by a business which also must be approved by the Court.
One of those is AZ Legal Documents by JoJo, owned and operated by Georgiana “JoJo” Aguilar, who began working in Cochise County as a paralegal in 2004. She later opened her own company and is certified as the company’s designated principal. This means she is responsible for every document that leaves the office even if one of her employees prepares it.
AZ Legal Documents by JoJo specializes in family law matters, including divorce and legal separation, child custody and child support, guardianships, and wills. Aguilar also offers services for bankruptcy, real estate, and several other non-criminal matters. Those areas of law have frequent rules changes, requiring Aguilar and her staff like all certified legal document preparers to undergo continuing education each year.
“We are able to ensure our customers have the correct form or forms needed for their situation,” she said. “We also have the experience to know what the Court needs to have with the form, which can save customers time and money.”
Another legal document preparer business is East Valley Legal which is owned by Chelsea Woodworth, who is a member of the Board of Nonlawyer Legal Service Providers.
Woodworth, who also owns a legal paraprofessional firm called Chelsea Legal PLC. in Mesa, worked as a Crime Victim Advocate, an Undercover Private Investigator, and for the Department of Homeland Security prior to entering the legal field in 2013. She is a Legal Paraprofessional with endorsements in Limited Jurisdiction Civil and Family Law, a Certified Legal Document Preparer, and an Advanced Certified Paralegal.
The experience Woodworth brings to the field is one reason she is a member of the Board of Nonlawyer Legal Service Providers.
The Board of Nonlawyer Legal Service Providers next meets Sept. 26 at the Arizona Supreme Court at 1501 W. Washington Street in Phoenix. The public may join the virtual meeting or attend in person.