Beat the high cost of lawyers -- Page 2
For the cost of the copying, self-represented
people can obtain all the necessary paperwork to file with the court
in a particular case. If someone comes into the self-service center
and wants to file a petition for divorce, there's a series of documents
that they can look at to see which ones best fit their needs, says
"The people who make use of the self-service
center run the gamut from very low income to middle-plus income,
with education from elementary school through college," she
says. "The service is for everybody. We even have lawyers come
in to check documents to be sure even they are providing the judges
with everything they need to go forward in a case."
Self-help centers are available in most jurisdictions
and the trend is picking up momentum as many counties and states
seek to meet the needs of the self-represented.
with your local courthouse to find out if there's a self-help
center in your area.
Costs: Fees are usually nominal and represent the
cost to the centers of photocopying forms. Prices for forms and
instructions range from $1 to $10.
3. Court sponsored Internet services
"Many courts have developed Web sites and are increasingly
tailoring assistance to pro se litigants through Internet technology,"
says Madelynn Herman, a knowledge management analyst with the National
Center for State Courts.
People can download forms and instructions, as well
as computer programs designed to help them fill out the forms. Many
court systems offer online access to court records, e-filing systems
that are designated for the self-represented litigant, and even
videos to orient pro se litigants to the court process or how to
fill out forms.
These services are generally free of charge.
4. Unbundled legal services
"Unbundled is when the lawyer and the client examine the
different elements of legal services and 'partner' to perform the
services," explains Will Hornsby, staff counsel for the American
Bar Association's division for legal services.
Consider all the tasks that a lawyer performs as part
of representation. They include counseling, drafting or document
preparation, investigation/discovery, negotiations and advocacy/litigation.
Instead of providing most, if not all, of these tasks, the lawyer
who unbundles services may provide only some of these tasks leaving
the rest of the work to the client.
"The client will do some work and the lawyer
will do some work. The overall cost to the individual would be lower
than full representation," adds Hornsby.
Lawyers may be retained for advice, to review documents
or to discuss strategy and have the client go to court on his or
her own. The lawyer might go to court for a limited purpose such
as obtaining a restraining order, leaving the client to represent
herself in a divorce.
"A good example of unbundled services is in the
creation of a small business. An individual will go to a lawyer
and get a checklist of tasks that need to be done. The client will
decide with the lawyer who will do what. Maybe the client will fill
out all the forms and the lawyer will review and correct them or
the client will do the filing and the footwork.
"With unbundling, the client is more involved
in the process and empowered to make decisions about his or her
outcome and consequences," says Hornsby.
There is no specific place to go to find a list of
attorneys who are willing to share a legal job and reduce expenses
through unbundling. Ask the attorney before contracting for their
5. Senior-citizen discounts
President Johnson signed a bill in 1965 creating the Older
In 1992, Title VII was added to "protect and
enhance the basic rights and benefits of older people," recognizing
that many of the legal needs of the older population were going
Federal money was provided to local legal services
organizations to provide legal assistance to those over citizens
over 60 without regard to their ability to pay.
One such program in Palm Beach County, Fla., is the
Elder Law Project that is run by the county's Legal Aid Society.
"Last year we served over 1,500 over-60 citizens
of our county," says Bonnie Cohen, senior paralegal of the
project. "Many clients were counseled through our elder hotline,
others were provided advocacy and litigation was pursued on their
Typically, the Elder Law Project will handle some
divorce cases (where there aren't too many assets), custody cases,
adoptions, emergency guardianships, Social Security and Medicare,
HMO and insurance, advance directives such as durable powers of
attorney and the appointment of health care surrogates, says Cohen.
Representation is free of charge. To find an elder
law program near you, contact your local Legal Aid or Legal Service
organization or go to the government's Agency