Navigating the legal system can be confusing, frustrating, and tedious. If you have no experience with the legal system, it can seem downright impossible. Legal documents are often lengthy, filled with legal jargon and hard to understand. Attending a court appearance for the first time is intimidating. You may not know what to wear, where to sit and what to say. If you find yourself in a situation in which you think you need legal assistance, it can be difficult to figure out where to even start.
The ideal option is obviously to hire an attorney. But attorneys are expensive and most people can't afford to pay an attorney upwards of $150 an hour for their services. There are some legal issues you can handle without a lawyer, but if you are unsure whether or not you should attempt to represent yourself, it is imperative to, at the very least, consult an attorney. You need to protect your rights and ensure that the appropriate documentation is filed and any action you take falls within the parameters of the law.
How Do I Find An Attorney?
Fortunately, there are organizations in each state that offer legal assistance for free (providing that you qualify) or at a reduced rate.
How Can I Find General Legal Information?
Below is a list of websites that provide general legal information. You should not substitute any of the information on these websites for the advice of an attorney, but any of them would be a good place to start educating yourself about the legal issue you're dealing with.
Law Help - this site helps consumers find free legal aid programs in their area, as well as providing answers regarding legal rights and legal forms.
Women's Law - provides legal information and support for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Nolo - a hub for legal and business information for consumers and small businesses.
FindLaw - provides information about legal issues, as well as a searchable database to locate an attorney.
I'm Going To Represent Myself - Now What?
If you do decide to represent yourself, there are some ways that you can get information regarding court procedures in your county. The Circuit Court Clerk's office in your county will have some forms available for filing and may be able to provide you with basic knowledge about the county's procedures and rules.
The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (the Judicial Branch of the U.S. Government) provides lists of Circuit Courts by state.
In addition, each county court should have a Victim Advocacy division. If you find yourself a victim of a crime, they will be able to assist you in any necessary court appearances or filing paperwork.
The U.S. Government Office for Victims of Crime provides resources and an on-line directory of national, state, local, and international programs and services to assist victims of crime.
I'm Not Going to Court, I Just Need To File Some Paperwork
If you need to address a simple legal matter that doesn't require a court appearance, such as drafting a will, trust, power of attorney or drafting a legal contract, you can often draft and sign these documents without the help of an attorney. Some of these forms you can find online, and you can also purchase software from office supply stores with blank forms.
Forms Guru has several forms available for free download.
Always keep in mind that when it comes to the law, there are deadlines, rules and regulations that are imperative to abide by. Be sure that you have accurate information and solid advice before you proceed taking any legal action.
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