In some respects, Billie Tarascio is someone who has simply had to change the way she does business due to the challenging economy.
However, she hopes that her new approach catches on enough to change the way people access something - legal service - when they desperately need it.
Under a business model called limited-scope representation, Tarascio & Del Vecchio PLLC has eschewed expensive retainer fees and offered representation on a more affordable a la carte basis.
"I've worked in various family law firms, and the traditional model didn't work. It didn't work for me or my clients," Tarascio said. "Basically, anyone who is not wealthy can't afford it ... I figured, let's lower the rate, and I'll do pay as you go. I began customizing what I was doing for clients."
Tarascio is licensed in Oregon and awaiting licensure in Arizona. She started the firm in September 2009 after moving to the Valley because her husband received a job here.
Much of the casework of the six-lawyer firm is devoted to family law. Fees for out-of-court services range from $99 to $129 an hour. The average hourly rate nationally in 2009 was $284, according to Incisive Legal Intelligence, an industry research firm.
In 2003, the American Bar Association and Arizona Supreme Court blessed limited-scope as an option for those who cannot afford full legal representation. Lawyers have offered limited-scope services - such as administering a will - but Tarascio said she is not aware of another local firm that does it exclusively.
"(A client may) need help with a particular problem, but just need someone to consult with - how to handle a particular item, like an explanation on what a motion for summary judgment means and how they should respond to it - and don't necessarily need total representation," said Patricia Sallen, director of special services and ethics for the State Bar of Arizona.
"It happens a lot in family-law or domestic-relations cases, where clients simply can't afford to have a lawyer do everything. You get as much as you can for the price you can pay."
A valid comparison would be to contracting home improvements - one does not need to pay for painting the walls if one can do it himself. However, there is an element of buyer beware because elements of the house tie together, and if one is not done right, the entire project suffers.
The same is true, Sallen said, of limited-scope representation.
"It has to be reasonable," Sallen said.
The firm's other partner is Allyson Del Vecchio, a former juvenile attorney in Connecticut.
"The ability to help people is why I went to law school in the first place," Del Vecchio said. "When I was working in Connecticut, I was not making a lot of money, but I was making a difference. That's what I wanted to do here ... With the economy the way it is, people having access to legal services is going to continue to be an issue. So, more models like this will start to pop up."
Tarascio said that her firm is considering offering full service for some clients. But limited-scope figures to be the overwhelming majority of the caseload for some time.
"We're new at this," Tarascio said. "The model is still adjusting. We're still working on how to make the model work, but I would love to see it expand and reach more people.
"We have no shortage of clients, so I guess that's the best affirmation of what we're doing. Our clients are grateful to have resources they didn't have before."