Once you have decided you need a lawyer, it is a good idea to shop
around. The first step is to compile a list of names. The recommendation
of someone whose judgment you trust is an excellent place to start your
search. You may want to begin by asking relatives, friends, clergy,
social workers, or your doctor for recommendations. Often those persons
can refer you to someone who has provided similar legal services for
them. Remember that you need to know more about the lawyer than simply
that the person is a good attorney. Ask the persons making the
recommendation for specific information about the type of legal help the
lawyer provided them and how their case was handled.
The following resources may assist you in your search for an attorney:
Bar Association Referral Lists
Many state and local bar associations maintain lawyer referral lists
organized by specialty. You can consult the lawyer referral service for
the name of an attorney who specializes in the type of case you have.
Keep in mind that the referral is not a recommendation nor does it
guarantee a level of experience. Bar associations may charge
participating lawyers and law firms a fee to be included on the referral
list. Also, many bar associations have committees that conduct training
or public service work for the benefit of older people. An attorney
serving on one of these committees could have the expertise you are
looking for. Check the white or yellow pages (under "Lawyers") of the
telephone book for the number of the state or local bar association.
The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) is a nonprofit
professional association of attorneys specializing in legal issues
affecting older persons. NAELA is not a legal referral service; however,
it does sell a registry listing over 350 member attorneys nationwide
($25 including shipping and handling).
National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys
1604 N. Country Club Road
Tucson, Arizona 85716
There are also a number of lawyer directories. Two of the larger
directories are likely to be available at your local library. The
Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory lists 600,000 American and Canadian
lawyers alphabetically by state and by categories. Each entry has a
biography, which includes information on each lawyer's education,
specialty, law firm, and the date of admittance to the bar. It also
includes a "rating" based on information supplied by fellow lawyers. It
does not include a rating by clients or judges. The Who's Who in
American Law directory lists about 24,000 lawyers and includes
biographical notes. This directory is somewhat difficult to use as the
lawyers are listed alphabetically rather than by state or specific area
Many communities also have other lawyer referral services to assist
people in finding a lawyer. Often the services are for specific groups
such as persons with disabilities, older persons, or victims of domestic
violence. Groups that may be good sources for a local referral include
the Alzheimer's Association and other support groups for specific
diseases, Children of Aging Parents, the Older Women's League, the state
civil liberties union local social services agency, or the local agency
on aging. Other referral services may be run by groups of attorneys
specializing in a certain area. Some services may screen the lawyers who
wish to have referrals in a particular area. If you use a referral
service, ask how attorneys are chosen to be listed with that particular
service. Many services make referrals to all lawyers who are members
(regardless of type and level of experience) of a particular
Lawyers are permitted to advertise within specific guidelines. You will
be able to gather some useful information from the publicity, however,
like advertisements in general, you should always be careful about what
you read or hear. Many advertisements for attorneys specializing in
certain areas of the law (such as personal injury or medical malpractice
in which there may be substantial fees) offer free consultations. Other
advertisements may list a set fee for a particular type of case. It is
always a good idea to investigate further and to comparison shop. Many
attorneys who do not advertise may also provide free consultations or
offer set fees for a certain legal problem. Also, keep in mind your case
may not be a "simple" one and set fees are usually for routine,
In addition, the court and your banker may be good referral sources.
Finally, the telephone book often lists lawyers according to their
IS FREE OR REDUCED-COST LEGAL HELP AVAILABLE?
There are a number of options for finding affordable legal help.
Federally funded legal services programs exist in every state and there
are pro bono or reduced-fee attorney panels and legal hotlines in a
number of states.
Free Legal Help for Older People
The Older Americans Act (OAA) requires your state office on aging to
fund a local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) program that provides free legal
help on noncriminal matters to people age 60 and over. Each of the over
644 local AAAs sets aside funds to provide free legal assistance for
those older persons who are in the greatest social and economic need. In
many states, the AAAs contract with the Legal Services Corporation (LSC)
funded programs described below. They may also set up their own programs
or contract with private attorneys to provide legal services to older
OAA legal services advocates provide representation in court or at
administrative hearings, community education, and self-help
publications. The OAA programs offer other types of assistance and
services as well. For example, an advocate may assist an older person
with a food stamp appeal and arrange for transportation to a nutrition
site. The OAA legal services programs do a great deal of outreach to the
community. Some attorneys spend as much as half of their time speaking
at senior centers or visiting people in their own homes.
There are no income guidelines that clients must meet in order to
qualify for services. However, the legal services provider and the Area
Agency on Aging may set priorities about the preferred type of
representation, such as obtaining government benefits, and may not be
able to provide help in cases the agency considers to be a lower
Cost: No cost to eligible clients.
Eligibility & Access to Service: OAA legal services providers handle
civil (not criminal) matters for persons age 60 or older regardless of
income. Local offices set priorities for the types of cases they will
handle. Not all cases can be handled.
Locating Local Agencies: Agencies providing free legal help to older
persons can be identified by calling your local Area Agency on Aging
listed in the government section of the telephone directory.
A national directory of OAA legal services providers (entitled Law &
Aging Resource Guide) lists a state-by-state breakdown of the addresses
and phone numbers of each office and is available from the American Bar
Association Commission on Legal Problems of the Elderly, 1800 M Street,
NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20036, (202) 331-2297. Single state
profiles are free. A complete copy of all state profiles is $20.
Legal Aid Offices (free help to low-income people of all ages)
There is also a nationwide network of legal aid offices (or legal
services) that receive federal funds to provide free legal help to low-
income people of all ages. The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is a
quasi-governmental entity that receives an annual appropriation from the
U.S. Congress and funds 324 legal aid programs throughout the country.
LSC legal aid programs are designed to provide free legal services to
persons with low incomes, including many older persons.
The legal help provided by LSC-funded programs is substantially the same
as that provided by the OAA-funded programs and, in many cases, is
provided by the same office. Staff advocates provide representation in
court or at administrative hearings, community education, legal clinics,
and self-help publications, as well as helping client groups in the
community such as tenants groups. Many offices also conduct outreach
programs to assist persons in nursing homes, mental hospitals, or others
who cannot easily reach the legal aid office. The legal services offices
have staff who specialize in issues related to older people, such as
Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other public benefits.
There are income and asset guidelines that you must meet to be eligible
for LSC-funded programs. The office can readily explain these
eligibility requirements to you. As mentioned above, some of these
offices also receive special Older Americans Act funding, and can
provide help to people 60 years of age and over, regardless of income or
Cost: No cost to eligible clients.
Eligibility & Access to Service: Legal aid offices handle civil (not
criminal) cases for persons with income below 125% of the federal
poverty guidelines ($12,300 for a couple in 1994). Local offices set
priorities and not all cases can be handled. In some cases (such as
abuse), the income guidelines may be waived.
Locating Local Agencies: You will find these agencies in your telephone
book under "legal aid" or "legal services" offices or by calling your
local bar association. Before making an appointment, call to make sure
that the services are free. Be aware that some private attorneys have
opened clinics that use the same type of name but don't provide free
Also, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association publishes an
annually updated national directory that lists the addresses and phone
numbers of all LSC-funded legal services offices, by state and county.
The guide can be obtained by writing to: NLADA Directory, 1625 K Street,
NW, Suite 800, Washington, DC 20006, (202) 452-0620. The cost is $30.
Pro Bono or Reduced-Fee Attorney Panels
Most legal aid offices and some bar associations have started special
pro bono panels (pro bono refers to free legal help that private
attorneys provide as a public service). In addition, some private
attorneys are willing to reduce their fees if a client's income is low.
The panels discussed in this section are the listings of the private
attorneys willing to offer some free or reduced-fee legal services. The
panels do not employ the attorneys but simply work to connect the
attorneys willing to offer services with the clients who need them.
Cost: Reduced-fee panels provide legal help at a cost less than the fee
that the private attorney "usually" charges for a case of the same type.
The exact fee varies based on locale and the individual attorney's fee
schedule. Attorneys who agree to handle a case pro bono will not charge
for their services although there may be court costs and other costs
associated with the case.
Eligibility & Access to Service: Many local bar associations have lists
of attorneys who volunteer for either reduced-fee panels or for pro bono
cases. Some have special panels for elderlaw cases. In many instances,
the local legal services programs (LSC and OAA) are part of this
network. The legal services programs identify cases of persons who
exceed financial guidelines or whose cases they are otherwise unable to
handle. The cases are then referred to pro bono or reduced-fee panels.
Since the OAA and LSC legal services programs often must first screen
the cases for the pro bono or reduced- fee attorney panels, contact with
the legal aid agency is often a good way to identify a program in your
Locating Local Sources: Local legal aid offices and bar associations
are usually listed in the yellow (under "Lawyers") or white pages of the
Some areas offer special legal hotlines for call-in advice. Often this
telephone advice service is sponsored by bar associations and has
limited hours or covers limited geographical areas. Sometimes the
hotline may be offered for a limited time such as on Law Day, May 1.
The federal government's Administration on Aging (AoA) sponsors
statewide legal hotlines that provide legal advice to all persons age 60
or older, regardless of income or the nature of their problem. The
hotlines are staffed by attorneys who give advice, send pamphlets, or
make referrals to special panels of attorneys or to legal services
Cost: Most (including the AoA-funded hotlines) do not charge for the
advice given. Cases which require additional work are referred to
private attorneys or legal services programs (individual hotline
policies will vary).
Eligibility & Access to Service: Open to all persons age 60 or older.
The services exist only in limited areas of the country. See Appendix 2
for a listing of the statewide legal hotlines as of the date this guide
was published. Plans are underway to expand to other states.
Locating Local Agencies: Call your local bar association or Area Agency
Excerpted from An Older Person's Guide to Finding Legal Help
from Legal Counsel for the Elderly
601 E Street, NW
Washington, DC 20049
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