Consumers' Guide to Legal Help
Commercial Law Directories
There are a number of for-profit directories of lawyers online. In most cases, lawyers pay a fee to advertise in such directories. Sometimes these directories also offer for sale other legal forms or products. These commercial directories are different than bar association-sponsored lawyer referral and information services. Those services seek to provide objective advice on the best type of legal help for a particular problem, and if appropriate provide a referral to a lawyer with appropriate experience and expertise.
Case Bidding Services
With case-bidding services, you post your legal problem on a web site. Lawyers browse the items posted, and if they handle that type of case and are interested in working with you, they contact you to bid for the work. They specify a flat rate, contingent fee or hourly rate at which they will take your case. You can then decide which bid to accept. One concern about such services relates to client confidentiality. Normally, when you hire a lawyer and tell him/her your story, the lawyer is bound by rules of ethics and the courts to keep that information absolutely confidential. But you lose your confidentiality if you share the information with many others or post it where many others can view it on the Internet. So if you use these services, it is best to be careful to describe your problem in only general terms.
Prepaid Legal Service Plans
Prepaid plans provide subscribers who pay a modest monthly cost to have access to lawyers who can handle basic legal problems. Joining or subscribing to a legal services plan will make certain covered legal services are available to you whenever you need them. These plans can provide you with a lawyer who will help you handle basic legal matters without additional charge or at modest cost based upon a plan fee schedule. A basic low-cost legal plan provides advice and consultation by telephone and may also include brief office consultations, review of simple legal documents, preparation of a simple will, and short letters written or phone calls made by a lawyer. Other plans offer more comprehensive coverage for trials, marital problems, bankruptcy, real estate matters and the like. In addition to the member, most plans include or offer coverage for his or her spouse and dependent children. Please see the American Prepaid Legal Services Institute for more information.
Being a Careful Consumer
When you look for legal information (or advice) on the web, make sure that it describes the law in the state where you have a legal problem. The law is different in each state, and the law in one state does not control situations in other states. Only a few issues, like bankruptcy and federal income tax, are treated the same in all states because they are governed by federal law. Also, look carefully at who runs the web site - just because someone can create a web page doesn't mean that they are a legal expert! Don't rely on only one web site for information. Look for other sources to verify the information. Many bar associations and public interest organizations -- such as www.lawhelp.org -- provide legal information for the public. To search our site for legal information sites in your state, please select a state from the Find Legal Help home page.