What is the difference between a Petition Preparer and an Attorney?

The difference between a Petition Preparer and an Attorney is clearly summed up in the old adage, “you get what you pay for”. Cost is often the most important factor for people when deciding to hire a lawyer. However, many people do not realize that the cost of having your case done incorrectly is often times worse than the cost. Having your case done wrong cannot often be fixed. Here are the explanations of, pros, and cons of petition preparers and attorneys. 


A Petition Preparer is often a paralegal or a notary (or both) who will help you complete forms for your case. A Petition Preparer is NOT an attorney. Petition preparers are often used for divorce, bankruptcy, and immigration cases. The petition preparer will prepare your paperwork based on information that you provide to them. 


Pros: Petition preparers may charge a fee for preparing documents and it is often much less than an attorney would charge. A petition preparer can assist you if you know what you need to do, but you are not good with computers or technology. Petition preparers are limited to filling out forms. 


Cons: A petition preparer cannot provide legal advice. Legal advice would include telling you which forms you need to file your divorce case, which chapter of bankruptcy you should file, and how to explain your answers to questions in your immigration case. They cannot appear in court with you or for you. A petition preparer also cannot file paperwork for you with the court or any agency. A petition preparer is not required to have any knowledge of the laws or the forms they are assisting you with. 


An Attorney is a licensed professional who has a bachelor’s degree and a law degree from an accredited law school. They also passed a standardized bar exam for the state that they practice in. A Florida attorney is also regulated by The Florida Bar, which sets forth rules and requirements of how a lawyer should behave, handle clients, and handle client’s property and cases. 


Pros: An attorney can provide legal advice. They can review your situation and analyze which will be best for your situation. An attorney can tell you which documents you need to file for your divorce case, will prepare them for you, review them with you, file them for you, and go to court with you. An attorney will be able to explain what the court process looks like, what you can expect, and what the next steps are in your matter. An attorney can also explain the law to you, how it will benefit you, and how it may not help you. 


Cons: An attorney has fees which usually correspond with their experience. Many times, attorneys seek their money upfront, in order to protect their business. This can be a challenge to come up with a lump sum of money to pay for an attorney. 


If you plan on using a petition preparer, protect yourself with these five steps:

  1. Make sure the petition preparer identifies themselves as a petition preparer.
  2. Make sure you get a copy of their contract, which should explain their services and fees. Make sure you read the contract before you sign it!
  3. The petition preparer should not charge an unreasonable fee – they should not charge more than $300-$350 depending on the complexity of the case. (Bankruptcy Petition Preparers should not charge more than $200, and some courts actually limit how much a petition preparer can charge.) 
  4. The petition preparer should not collect any fees that should go to the court or any agency. 
  5. Review your paperwork before you sign it – 
    1. Did the petition preparer include all of their contact information?
    2. Did the petition preparer fill out the portion of the form where it requires them to tell the court or agency that they helped you? 
    3. Did they accurately list how much you paid them? 


I always counsel potential clients on the value of hiring an attorney just like you would if you were painting your house. You could go to the hardware store and buy paint, and blue tape, and rollers, and brushes, and tarps. You could spend a few weekends painting your house and do a good job. You will have still spent money, but you did it yourself with basic knowledge. This explanation is similar to hiring a petition preparer. On the other hand, you could also pay a professional painter to paint your home, while you sit inside the air conditioning, drinking lemonade, and reading a good book. This explanation is similar to hiring an attorney. Yes, it may cost more to hire a professional, but in the end, the value in the job should be worth it. 

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