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Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe: Can I afford a Firm lawyer or Paralegal or Legal Plan or to do it myself?

We all remember as children playing a counting game to figure out who would be "it". As a client with an existing or potential legal problem, what is the best way to choose help for that problem? In a struggling economy, the client or "consumer" should be savvy to potential options and take advantage of the state of the marketplace. It is free to research options yet you can't afford to leave an important decision to chance.

Rather than play "Eeny, Meeny" with your legal problem, you should consider how to get the best bang for your legal buck. First step, look at your options:

Hire a Lawyer from a firm: Whether a large or a small firm, these days law offices are reducing staff and trying to compete in a difficult market. Newly admitted lawyers are finding it difficult to land jobs and even law school admissions are at a historic low. This translates to a time that a savvy consumer can maximize their "legal buck". Research the firm and the particular attorney you want to handle your matter. Talk frankly about your budget and ask if the firm will either offer a sliding scale or whether they will honor a discount based on prompt payment. Many lawyers offer free consultations and this is not only an opportunity to interview the lawyer but to ask about the economic as well as legal ramifications of your case.

Hire a Paralegal or Legal Document Assistant: Hiring a non-lawyer may be a way to stretch your legal buck. Be aware that non-lawyers are not authorized to "practice law" or give legal advice so closely evaluate whether yours is a matter that you need some simple "non lawyer" help on. If you are not sure, you could first consult (hopefully on a free consultation with an experienced lawyer) whether your matter is one that can be handled by a paralegal or other non lawyer.

Legal "Plans": Some think of a legal plan where the consumer pays a flat or monthly fee as a way to save on the costs of legal matters. Depending on your need, this could be a cost conscious way to save but be a wary consumer. Ask questions if the plan documents are not clear and get any ambiguous issues in writing. A plan may offer a few "free services" (such as a will, a "demand letter" or a traffic ticket review) but you have to know what happens when the "rubber meets the road". For example, if the plan gives you a free demand letter (the initial letter of representation and a statement of your position) what happens if the demand receives no meaningful response? Some plans offer litigation (filing and handling a lawsuit) at a discounted rate from lawyers assigned by the plan and not of your choosing. You can find out what "discount" the plan offers and compare it to the amount you can negotiate from a lawyer of your own choosing or from a trusted referral.

Self help: The most economical way to handle a matter is "do it yourself" but whether you are fixing a carburetor or a real estate dispute, know your limitations. The Superior Court websites in your County are a great place to start. Many have "Judicial Council Forms" readily linked to the site, which are standardized forms often times accompanied by user friendly instructions. Typical examples are for restraining orders, landlord tenant issues, dissolution and family law issues and more. Also look to see if your County has "facilitators" who are generally retired or volunteer lawyers or upper-class law students who can aid you with the forms or deciding whether to "do it yourself" or not. If you realistic approach your legal problem and consider the time, emotional commitment and your skill you can often quickly determine if this is a viable option for you.

Your legal future starts in your own hands and making a decision as to how to proceed is a lot easier if you utilize many of the low or no cost options above. Depending on the complexity of the matter and your comfort level, you can make an informed decision rather than trust your matter to "eeny, meeny, miny" and so on. The cost to "do over" a poorly planned initial decision will not only cost you time and money, it may cost you potential exposure. Following this plan will help you determinte what and who "it" is that will be the best answer to your problem.

Good luck and good law!

Additional resources provided by the author

I have listed below two sample links for both the Superior (or State Court) as well as the local Federal Court (for example for Bankruptcy issues) for my home county of San Diego. You may do a simple brower search in your area using the County name and the name of the Court you may need.

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