Finding Legal Help
How an Attorney Can Help
Consultation and Advice: An attorney can review your situation and suggest alternatives. Hopefully, the attorney will present a variety of options for you to consider and encourage you to make your own decision.
Negotiation: Attorneys are often skilled negotiators and may be more effective than individuals at reaching a settlement in a dispute. The simple act of sending a message on a lawyers letterhead can make an important statement about how serious you are about taking action.
Representation: You may want to hire an attorney to represent you if you are sued by someone or if you decide to sue. Keep in mind that attorneys are expensive, so be sure you are comfortable with your chosen course of action before you hire someone to represent you. Occasionally a good self-help book can substitute for costly legal assistance with routine procedures, but if the other party has hired an attorney you may want professional advice.
How to Find a Lawyer
Legal Aid: Legal aid offices (in your local phone book) offer legal assistance to low income households. To qualify for legal aid, your household income cannot exceed 135% of the federal poverty level.
Legal Clinics: Many law schools provide free legal advice to the public through workshops and clinics while others limit public access by using the same income requirements as legal aid offices. Call law schools in your area for more information.
Personal Referrals: If you know someone who has a good lawyer, consider calling that attorney first. Like doctors, attorneys usually specialize in one particular type of law so make sure the lawyer you choose is qualified to help with your situation.
Group Legal Plans: Some organizations contract with attorneys to provide services to their members for free or at reduced rates. If you think your employer might offer such a plan through an employee assistance program or if you belong to a union or consumer action group, you should ask if your benefits include legal assistance for members.
Prepaid Legal Insurance: Prepaid legal insurance provides limited services for a low monthly fee. If you need extensive or specialized legal advice, legal insurance may not be cost effective. Check to see if attorneys will write letters for you, how much of the attorneys time you are eligible to use each month and the cost of additional services. Prepaid legal insurance groups may hire less qualified attorneys to keep costs to a minimum, so research the plan carefully before joining.
Consumer Organizations: Local libraries sometimes carry publications from consumer-oriented legal organizations or attorneys. Typically, consumer organizations of this type are located in larger cities.
Additional Lawyer Referral Sources: You may be able to get general information and the names of local attorneys from county bar associations. On a national level, the Attorney Referral Network (800-624-8846) can also steer you toward an attorney in a specific field or location. Neither the bar associations nor the referral network guarantee the competence of the attorneys they recommend.
What to Look for in a Lawyer
Price and Personality – Although you are seeking the advice of an expert, remember that you are the ultimate decision maker. When you decide to hire a lawyer, you will want to shop for the best price and most comfortable fit just as you would for anything else.
Accessibility – When you initially contact a law office for information, ask to speak directly to an attorney. If you are connected to a paralegal instead, you might do more research into the firms customer service practices.
Knowledge and Reputation – A good attorney will appreciate a well informed client. Be sure that the lawyer you choose freely shares information and answers questions. If an attorney doesnt know the answer to a question, dont assume she is not knowledgeable. Attorneys commonly need to research facts.
How Much Lawyers Charge
Fees: Attorneys generally charge in one of three ways:
Get Fee Arrangements in Writing: Regardless of why you hire a lawyer, be sure the lawyer puts the fee arrangement in writing and that you sign it. If the lawyer doesnt mention a written fee arrangement, ask about one.
Alternatives to Lawyers
Law Libraries: Often you can handle a legal problem yourself if youre willing to do some research in a law library. An average law library will have published explanations of most aspects of the law, the text of major federal laws, published court opinions interpreting federal and state laws, and forms and written guidance for filing a lawsuit.
Public law libraries are often located in county courthouses, public law schools and state capitals. Public libraries often have federal codes, state codes and some major legal treatises. Statutes passed by Congress are published as the United States Code which is organized into 50 numbered titles. To find a federal statute, find the US Code and locate the title and section number. Like federal codes, most state codes are divided into numbered titles (some states divide by subject). If you cant locate a statute, use the index accompanying the code or ask a librarian for help.
Typing Services: A typing service can act as a legal secretary if you need documents prepared for you and filed in court. Typing services charge far less than attorneys for their services, however, they cannot give legal advice. Look for the following characteristics when choosing a service:
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