At one time or another we will all need some legal help. This page is a compilation of some of the many resources available.

Legal Resources

Small Claims Court

Small Claims Court is a means for individuals to seek redress for their civil grievances without the costs of an attorney. In small claims actions, neither party may bring an attorney—you're representing yourself. In California, small claims court is only available for claims where no more than $7,500 is in dispute—although the court can award more than that as punitive damages. The winning party can also often recover the costs they incurred on the suit (e.g. the filing fee).

Self-Help/Free Resources

There are a lot of resources available to help you address your own legal problems at little or no cost. Bear in mind that the law is incredibly complex, and it's a big risk to represent yourself. On the other hand, attorneys are extremely expensive. If you have been injured or the victim of malpractice, you will probably be looking at a contingency fee—rather than charging you on an hourly basis, the lawyer will keep typically between 20% to 40% of the award or settlement. The percentage can be negotiated in most cases and the court has the final say as to the exact percentage paid in legal fees. The advantage of this system is that the lawyer will usually foot all of the costs—filing fees, hiring mediators, process servers, yadda, yadda, so the case costs you nothing unless you win.

  • Legal Services of Northern California provides free legal services in the areas of public benefits, housing (eviction defense, fair housing, general landlord/tenant law), consumer protection (debt collection defense, creditor harassment, contract disputes, identity theft, foreclosure prevention), employment, education (suspension and expulsion defense and special education rights) and simple estate planning for low income people earning less than 200% of federal poverty level and seniors over 60 who live in Yolo County. They are located in Woodland at 619 North Street. http://lsnc.net/
  • Undergraduate students get a free 15 minutes of legal time per quarter as part of their ASUCD fees.
  • Graduate students Do not currently receive complimentary legal aid through UCD. This service has unfortunately ended and will be discontinued indefinitely.
  • The Law Library at King Hall is open to the public. It's an excellent resource. Anyone can check out non-Reserve books. Parking is free on the weekends, but you need a UCD parking permit/visitor permit ($6/day as of 2010) during the week. There are tons of bike racks handy, though. Outside of academic hours, you'll need to use the entrance at the northwest of the building.
  • The Sacramento County public law library is located in downtown Sacramento at 8th & I in the old Hall of Justice, right across the street from the Amtrak station. Meter parking is available nearby; on weekdays, there's valet parking in the basement of the building ($2 per half hour, $20 max for the day). Diagonally across I Street is another private parking garage ($1.50/half hour, $18 max. It closes at 6pm, so if you leave after that, it's free. They also have an early bird special, $10 for the day if you're in by 8am).
  • The Yolo County Law Library is in Woodland at 204 4th Street. It is open 9:30am-3:30pm Monday through Friday.
  • Yolo County has an excellent compilation of useful web resources, available here.
  • The California Courts system has a variety of self-help resources. Most of them are compiled here.
  • (I'll be gradually filling this out with some of the self-help clinics, law libraries, referral services, etc. in the area)

Attorneys and Law Firms

There are a lot of lawyers out there, some of them good, some of them not. It can be daunting, trying to pick one. One way to find a good lawyer is through the California State Bar website — Legal Specialists search. Go to [www.calbar.ca.gov], click on "Legal Specialists" on the left, and then under Consumers, click on "find a specialist." State Bar specialists must take and pass a difficult exam in their field of specialty, and must also keep updated in their field in order to maintain their certification. The next best way is to ask another lawyer for a professional recommendation. Lawyers tend to know which attorneys are the most prominent and well respected in their field of practice.

There are a host of online directories and rating systems for lawyers across most areas of practice including consumer law practices. The rigor of the rating system is an important criteria to assess the credibility of the system's evaluation of the attorney's capabilities and reputation. Directory and rating systems that allow attorneys to recommend themselves or enable an attorney to pay for recommendations are less reliable than systems that only accept peer-reviewed recommendations. The best services use a combination of independent and knowledgeable 'editorial' assessments combined with peer recommendations. Among the most popular directories and ranking systems are Martindale Hubbell; Super Lawyers; Best Lawyers, Chambers and Partners, USA; Legal 500; and AVVO. But there are many others. Increasingly, Yelp.com is featuring the reviews and recommendation of lawyers and can serve as a way to vet a list of recommended lawyers in the area of practice required. Finally, you can find a lawyer through word of mouth—if folks have had a good experience with a lawyer, that's sometimes a good sign, but peer recommendation is better.

Most attorneys today provide a free consultation. Typically this is an hour or less of their time to assess the issues in your matter and determine whether and how they might be able to help. It is recommended that you find two or three attorneys that you think would be good fits with your matter and conduct these consultations with each of them. You should feel comfortable with the attorney's demeanor, trust in their capabilities, easily understand what they are recommending and like the other professional staff in the office. Working with an attorney is like having a partner in your business or personal affairs. be sure that you are comfortable with that partner before signing an engagement agreement. Depending upon the area of practice, you may have numerous attorneys and law firms to choose from or very few. For example, family law attorneys are plentiful while an attorney specializing in, say, aviation law, will not be as common.

Tips for controlling legal costs:

Note: Attorneys are bound by the Rules of Professional Ethics which each state Supreme Court creates and oversees. The vast majority of attorneys are ethical, forthright, trustworthy and are strong advocates for their clients. Attorneys which have been cited and found guilty for violations of the professional ethics Rules are listed on most state supreme court websites. Ask for the attorneys Bar number so that you can check the website for any history of infractions. If you find any, move on to the next attorney.

Tips: Ask for the hourly rates for each attorney or professional staff that could work on the matter. Inquire as to any available discounts. Hourly rates range from $150 - $450 / hour for most consumer-related legal work and from $250 - $600 / hour for most commercial work. It is not uncommon for law firms and attorneys raise their hourly rates by 3%-7% each year, although if your matter is expected to cross the calendar year, request that the originating year's rates be held for the duration of the matter for all those working on your matter.

Ask about alternative fee arrangements such as contingency fees, project fees and matter caps. Ask which tasks in the matter estimate can be billed for a set fee and which must be billed by the hour. Flat project fees shift the incentive to be efficient to the attorney so the more work that is performed on a flat fee basis, the better. It also enables the client to budget for their legal costs better.

Ask about the costs incurred in the past five similar matters handled by the attorney. Request that the attorney speak to the client to see if you can talk to them as a reference. (In more times than not, the attorney will use attorney client privilege and issues of confidentiality to avoid this- but it is worth a try.

Ask for an estimate - before signing an engagement agreement, find out what the matter is likely to cost you and the number of hours the attorney thinks it will take her. Find out what types of changes or situations could occur that might change the estimate of work. Make sure the estimate is written and that you get a copy of it.

Ask which aspects of the matter could be done by non-professionals in the office, by related service providers (such as by a bank or accounting firm) or even by yourself.

Request that no hours be put into the matter unless it is well within the original scope of work in which the estimate was made. If it is outside this scope, ask to be informed in advance of performing the work so that you can agree to the out of scope project expense.

Ask about the types and policy on expenses and other legal service charges. Do they charge for copies? Faxes? Phone charges? Filing or docketing charges? Get a list of their additional charges.

Ask about court fees and application fees. Get a list of these and whether or not a mark up is added to these fees.

Ask about the experience level of the professionals working on the matter both in years and in number of matters. It is often far less expensive to pay an experienced attorney a higher rate but who can disperse with the matter more quickly than to pay a lower fee to a junior attorney is billing you for his 'on-the-job' training. Same goes for the professional staff in the office. Inquire as to whether the working attorney will be using pre-qualified templates or creating the necessary documents from scratch. In today's legal world, there are few documents that must be created from scratch, especially among firms and attorneys who are highly experienced in their practice area.

While an exhaustive line of questioning may feel like it is challenging the attorney's integrity (or worse, the attorney makes you feel that way), rest assured it sets a powerful expectation that will resonate with the attorney and ensure she is conscientious in how she bills her time to your matter. A large majority of professional liability cases result from accusations of overbilling. No attorney wants to deal with the challenge and expense of such claims- whether proven or not. That is, in the end, the largest force behind the reasonableness of legal bills.

Aviation

Bankruptcy

Business

  • Raphael Moore (JD, LL.M.) at Moore and Moore Attorneys at Law has been giving our community business direction for almost 20 years - services include employment, business purchase & sales, negotiations, corporations & LLCs, partnerships, contract drafting, leases, buy & sell agreements, etc.
  • Lowenthal Law Office Advocacy for the business community. Representing entrepreneurs, investors and business owners in Davis and Yolo County.

Civil Rights

Criminal

Employment

Estate Planning and Probate: Wills, Trusts, Powers of Appointment, Health Care

Family Law

LGBT

Immigration

Injury

Intellectual Property

General Civil Litigation

Real Estate

Taxes

Departed Firms

Law Firm and Attorney Services

Lawyers interested in gaining more clients, improving their operations or attracting qualified candidates often seek the experience of legal management consultants and legal service support providers. These consultants and providers work on a variety of law firm operational needs and issues including business development, marketing, knowledge management, legal process improvement, recruiting and hiring, e-Discovery, and numerous other services.

Law Firm Service Providers

Business Development Strategy, Plans and Coaching

  • Group Dewey Consulting http://www.groupdewey.com Don't leave your future to chance. Develop the process, disciplines and strategy to ensure your practice and firm has gravitational client pull.

 Lateral Partner Recruiting, Due Diligence and Integration

  • Group Dewey Consulting http://www.groupdewey.com Know your lateral candidate's true fit with your firm, the clients most likely to port over and develop a marketing plan that helps to assure success.