Options for Legal Services
Let me first say: I am not a lawyer. Nothing in this post is intended to give you legal advice!
Now, as a mediator I am sometimes asked about how to find a lawyer. While many mediators are lawyers, I am not – and even if your mediator is a lawyer, they are not allowed to represent you or give you legal advice while mediating! (A lot of mediating is about neutrality, and the mediator would not be a neutral third party if they gave one side legal advice.)
Since I became a mediator, I have learned about a few options for people who think they need a lawyer. These are either low/no-cost services, or, services that are intended to put you in touch with a lawyer who you then can decide whether or not to hire. There are three services local to where I live that I’ll highlight in this post.
Legal Services of Northern Virginia (LSNV)
LSNV is a nonprofit whose mission is to provide access to justice for disadvantaged individuals and communities. Designed to help precisely those most in need of legal assistance and least likely to be able to pay for it, there is an application to determine if you are eligible. In general, their clients are those who live at or near the federal poverty level. In addition, they also provide informative, downloadable pamphlets intended to help people navigate a variety of legal procedures, from bankruptcy to public benefits to elder law, and more.
Oh, and if you’re someone who doesn’t need their services but wants to help, they could also use pro bono attorneys and, of course, donations!
The next two services are for people who can afford to pay for a lawyer as needed, but either don’t know where to start or would prefer to take advantage of a discount program.
Bar Association Lawyer Referrals
Local bar associations often offer a lawyer referral service. There are such services offered throughout Northern VA, including in Fairfax and Arlington. In Fairfax, the Lawyer Referral Services screens over 15,000 requests every year, and refers over 3,000 residents and businesses to Fairfax County attorneys. What happens to the other 12,000 requests? According to the website, the referral staff will offer you legal advice, and, let you know if perhaps a non-legal service might be better for your needs. (Like mediation!)
Nationally, the American Bar Association sets forth standards for lawyer referral services. Such services are intended for those who are able to pay normal attorney fees, but, they do not necessarily understand how to navigate the legal system or find the best qualified lawyer for their needs. I’m betting that’s probably most people who need a lawyer!
LegalShield is a very interesting animal! It’s different from both LSNV and lawyer referral services because it provides you direct access to attorneys specializing in whatever aspect of the law you need, at lower-than-usual prices. One way in which LegalShield is similar to the Lawyer Referral Service is that LegalShield will do the work of connecting you to an attorney who specializes in what you need – so you don’t wind up going to a medical malpractice attorney when what you need is a divorce attorney.
The way it works is that people purchase a membership in LegalShield for a monthly price that is a fraction of the cost of legal work. So, you pay every month whether you use a lawyer that month or not, but the price is something like $35-$80 depending on your package. A few legal services are included for free with that fee, and other (most) legal services are provided at a discount.
To learn more about LegalShield, you can contact your local LegalShield representative. One representative in the Northern Virginia area is Sharon Brown.
Everything I’m sharing here is information that’s publicly available online; I hope I’ve made it easy for you to find the kind of legal service you need. And remember, if you want to avoid courts, mediators are here to help. While I specialize in workplace mediation, you can find mediators for divorce, parenting plans, elder care, and more.