New divorce/family law firm serves those most in need

Issue March 2013 By Christina P. O’Neill

Gabriel Cheong, owner of Quincy-based Infinity Law Group, has opened his second law firm, Cambridge Divorce Group LLC. The firm, which opened February 4, will offer exclusively reduced-fee limited assistance representation (LAR), in all areas of family law including divorce, custody, child support, alimony, and property division. Its 10 contract attorneys will help clients on a pay-as-needed basis to fill forms, draft agreements and court filings, and provide limited representation in court and general advice.

It targets middle-income divorce and family law clients who don't qualify for free legal services, but who can't afford traditional attorney fees for various reasons. Clients, expected to be largely walk-ins or referrals, are expected to be low-income people or those without access to their funds. Its hourly rate is $125, and it doesn't take up-front retainers from its clientele.

"It's definitely a volume-based business," says Cheong. The contract attorneys, all versed in family law and all of whom are mainly younger attorneys trying to build their own legal businesses, choose their shifts at Cambridge Divorce Group. They'll be able to do their own work while they wait for walk-ins, he says.

Ninety percent of litigants in Massachusetts probate court don't have legal representation and encounter legal roadblocks as a result. Referring these pro se clients to non-profit legal services in a bad economy, does not work, because a bad economy usually dries up Legal Services funding.

"The business model is not in sync with the population that it services," Cheong says.

Pro bono work doesn't close the gap.

"How can you ask new young lawyers struggling to pay their own bills, to give more of what they don't have?" Cheong says. " So I took a look at this and said, let's try to work at it from a different angle."

A January 25 open house marking the firm's opening saw 40 guests, mostly attorneys, but also representatives from domestic violence shelters across the state.

Cheong does say he's gotten a bit of a pushback from legal-community skeptics who question whether they'll have to lower their fees in order to compete. He disagrees with that assessment -- if piecemeal legal help is all a client can afford, that client never would have hired a more traditional-model firm in the first place, he says. His hope, he says, is to get the legal community to realize there is value in LAR work and that it doesn't take away from more standard practices.