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Beat the high cost of lawyers -- Page 3

6. Lawyer-referral service
Many local bar associations have set up lawyer-referral services that match clients with a local attorney in the area of law that suits their need. There are currently over 300 such services sponsored by bar associations.

For a nominal fee, generally between $30 and $50, an individual can get a 30-minute consultation with an attorney who will assess the merits of the case and offer suggestions on how to proceed.

"Our attorneys are pretty good at answering all a client's questions and providing options," says Margarita Flores, director of the lawyer-referral program in Maricopa County.

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"For $35, you can find out if you really have a case worth pursuing. You have an opportunity to get something off your chest and find out if there's really a legal issue to pursue," she says.

Check with your county bar association to find out what referral programs are offered. Click here for a listing of state bar associations.

7. Legal hotlines and 'elawyering'
It's possible to get legal advice without ever leaving your home using either of these services.

On a legal hotline, a person can expect to get answers to some questions by phone. Whether operated by a not-for-profit legal aid society, as a facet of a prepaid legal insurance program or as a for-profit venture, hotlines typically will focus on giving legal advice and preparing forms.

"Elawyering" goes a bit further by offering services. Legal Advice Line offers several services at flat rates. For $34.95, you can talk to and get specific advice from a lawyer in your state with no time limit to the call. You can submit questions online and get answers either by phone or by e-mail. You can have a lawyer in your state review a document for $49.95 or you can have a legal document created for you online, starting at $3.95.

Other major legal-service providers on the Web include LegalZoom.com and CompleteCase.com.

LegalZoom.com, co-founded by O.J. Simpson "dream team" attorney Robert Shapiro, offers a variety of services, including handling all the paperwork for an uncontested divorce with children for $299 and without children for $249.

CompleteCase.com is an online legal-document preparation service for divorce only. They do the paperwork and then e-mail it to you to download and print. Cost is $249.00 for uncontested divorce.

8. Legal Aid societies and the Legal Services Corporation:
These are nonprofit legal-service providers that serve a lower-income population with free legal representation. These organizations can offer assistance in areas such as landlord-tenant disputes, family law matters, fair housing, elder law and more.

Funding is provided through various federal, state and local sources as well as philanthropic grants. To qualify for legal assistance, clients meet a means test usually averaging 125 to 150 percent above the poverty level which translates to an approximate yearly income of $15,000 to $18,000 in a household with one breadwinner and $25,000 to $30,000 with two breadwinners.

The best place to find a legal aid or legal service organization is to check the phone book. The Legal Services Corporation is a nonprofit corporation established by Congress in 1974 to provide legal assistance to those who would otherwise be unable to afford it. The Legal Services Corporation funds programs that serve every county in every state in the United States although they do not have offices in every county. To find a program near you, go to http://www.lsc.gov/fundprog.htm and click on your state.

9. Group or prepaid legal service plans
A prepaid legal services plan is similar to health insurance -- the individual pays a fixed amount monthly in exchange for future benefits on an as-needed basis. The typical prepaid plan provides legal advice and consultation over the telephone and may also include office consultations, document review, and the preparation of simple wills, letters or phone calls on behalf of the plan member. More extensive plans may include representation for civil and criminal matters such as traffic tickets, marital and family issues, bankruptcy and real estate.

According to the American Bar Association, at least 18 million Americans were enrolled in some form of legal services plan as of mid-1995.

Plans generally cost between $9 and $25 a month and can be charged to your credit card, taken as a payroll deduction or may even be free as a fringe benefit through an employer or membership in a union, credit union or other organization.

To find out if a plan may be available to you, ask your employer, union or other organization of which you are a member, such as the AARP, if a legal services plan is available. Or, you could log on to the American Bar Association's Prepaid Legal Services Institute where you can find a listing of group and prepaid legal plans.


-- Posted: July 20, 2004



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