How to Save Money Handling Your Own Legal Matter

“Sixty percent of bankruptcies and seventy-five percent of divorces in California are done without lawyers,” according to Do It Yourself Documents, a self-help legal book and kit retailer. With the availability of so many quality self-help legal resources today, it has never been easier to handle your own legal matter. I will tell you what self-help resources are available and how to use them.

Although the information I am about to give you is based on research and experience, always remember that only a lawyer is qualified to give you sound legal advice. I am not a lawyer, but I have worked extensively in this field. Use any of the products and services I mention here at your own risk.

You have several choices when trying to handle a legal matter without a lawyer. You can do the matter entirely on your own with a self-help book or kit; you can handle the matter with aid from an independent paralegal or legal assistance program; you can handle the matter through a program such as Pre-Paid Legal Services.

SELF-HELP BOOKS AND KITS

The market is saturated with self-help legal books and kits. Which ones can you trust? HALT, an organization of Americans for legal reform, has reviewed many popular self-help guides. On their website, you can find their “Do It Yourself” section, which has helpful product reviews. In general, I will save you time and tell you HALT repeatedly recommends products from Nolo Press. All of Nolo’s books and software are created by lawyers and are updated constantly. I also recommend products from Alpha Publications. I do not recommend products from Info America or similar publishers.

Kits and books you want to stay away from are those that are not updated frequently and not written by experts. Make sure the book or kit has a help-line from the publisher you can call if you need assistance. Also, does the kit/book include the forms you need? Does the kit/book have a CD-Rom so you can type the forms on your computer? Remember, you get what you pay for.

Before you buy anything, however, I recommend you check your state court system’s website because many states provide both forms and basic instructions for free. For a complete list of state-specific resources, try DoItYourselfDocuments.com. On the left side of their homepage, find your state on the drop down menu, then scroll to the bottom of the page for your state.

If there is a state-specific version of the kit or book you want, buy that one. For example, there are many national divorce kits intended for use in all 50 states. I have never seen one of these books or kits that was useful.

INDEPENDENT PARALEGALS AND LEGAL ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS

Independent paralegals are paralegals that do not work under the supervision of attorneys. In California, independent paralegals are licensed, bonded, and use the title “Legal Document Assistants.” Currently, California is the only state to regulate independent paralegals. For the California Association of Legal Document Assistants, visit their website at http://www.calda.org

An independent paralegal can provide you with the forms you need for many routine legal matters and assist you with filing your documents. Typically, independent paralegals are knowledgeable about local court rules and other nuisances you may not find in a self-help book or kit. The price? Usually, 1/3 of what you’d pay for an attorney.

If you live outside of California, be sure you hire an independent paralegal with a paralegal certificate from an American Bar Association approved school. Many times, independent paralegals with 15 years of experience or more do not have these certificates because they were not needed years ago. You may want to ask the independent paralegal what, if any, continuing education s/he obtains over the course of a year to stay up-to-date on training. Also, how long, if at all, s/he worked under the supervision of an attorney to gain the required knowledge to assist you. Finally, ask if the independent paralegal is a member of a professional association or has any special certifications.

There is only one national independent paralegal franchise to my knowledge, and that is We The People. We The People does not require their owners or operators to have paralegal certificates; however, they do provide in-depth training from the company on all the types of legal matters that they cover. We The People has been in business for over 20 years.

Like the independent paralegals described above, there are also “attorney assisted” independent paralegals. These attorney-assisted paralegals typically perform the same services as traditional independent paralegals but have an attorney proofread their documents or oversee their work in some way. Prices are typically about the same or slightly higher than traditional independent paralegals.

As for legal assistance programs, most states have “paperwork helpers” in the courthouse to assist you. In California, these are called Family Law Facilitators. These programs are free to everybody; they are not legal aid, which is only available to people with low incomes. There are also occasionally programs through local civic groups, such as the YMCA, that provide similar assistance.

PRE-PAID LEGAL

There are many types of legal insurance, but the most established is Pre-Paid Legal Services ( http://www.prepaidlegal.com ) For about $25-$30 a month, you can call a “provider law firm” and get legal advice on any matter. If you decide to use the “provider law firm” to handle a legal matter on your behalf, you typically receive some kind of discount. Some programs include free preparation of a Last Will and Testament for you and your spouse. Like any insurance, you can cancel your membership at any time.

If you wanted to do a more complex legal matter on your own, you could obtain a pre-paid legal membership and call your provider law firm any time you had a concern. If desired, cancel your membership when your legal matter was resolved. Be very sure that each time you call your provider law firm, you make it clear that you are not calling about the same thing you previously called about. They will charge you if you do. Be very specific and say, “I have called about this issue before, but I have a new concern…” Be prepared to wait a day or two for the provider law firm to call you back with your requested advice or information.

Many employers offer pre-paid legal insurance as a benefit. Before you sign up, be sure to check with your employer–it may be completely free to you.

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Filing Claims Under Uninsured Motorists, Under Insured Motorists Provisions in Illinois

Uninsured Motorist Bodily Injury Coverage (UM) – Refers to the mandatory coverage that your auto policy provides for you for your bodily injury caused by a hit-and-run driver or an at-fault driver who has no auto liability insurance. The State of Illinois law requires uninsured motorist limits of $20,000 per person and $40,000 per accident. For additional premium, you may buy higher limits to pay for claims that exceed those amounts.

Uninsured Motorist Property Damage (UM PD)T- his is an optional coverage. It provides coverage up to a specific amount, to your vehicle, in the even you were hit by someone who is legally insured. Since this is a partial physical damage coverage on your vehicle then you cannot and should not purchase it if you are also getting comprehensive and collision (there will be overlap in coverage.) Some people refer to a liability policy with (UM PD) as Liability Plus insurance.

Underinsured Motorist Bodily Injury Insurance (UIM) – This is an optional coverage that provides bodily injury equal to that in the UM, in the event that you are injured in an accident that is not your fault and the other person has insurance, but his/her insurance was not enough to cover all the bodily injuries you sustained. Insurers do not have to offer this coverage at the basic mandatory liability limits of 20,000/40,000. In the even the client chose to have higher limits, the insurer must offer this coverage at the same level of UM.

That is why when shopping for the affordabel auto insurance you need to worry about the limits of your policy, not just shop for the cheapest auto insurance quotes.

Your Options:

What can you do if you were hit by an uninsured motorist who was at fault in the accident? Can something be done to help you collect damages?

If you have a private policy you should submit a claim to your private insurer and they will help you collect for the damages. In this case you have to pay for the deductible and once your insurance company collects for damages they will refund you for the deductible that you paid.

You may also submit an Illinois Crash Report to the Illinois Department of Transportation Accident Report Office, 3215 Executive Park Drive, Springfield, Illinois 62766, Phone 217-782-4516. The report must include information about the uninsured driver, and that the case be certified by the State fpr suspension under the Safety and Financial Responsibility Law. Once the case is verified and the accident report is certified, the state will proceed with the suspension of the driver’s license of the at-fault uninsured driver and the license plates of the uninsured owner involved in the crash. The suspension will remain in effect until your a legal agreement is reached between the two parties to pay for the damges caused by the insured motorist, according to the State of Illinois statute related to this matter.

Another option is to take a legal action. You can file a court judgment against the uninsured motorist. If the judgment remains unsatisfied for 30 days, you may submit it to the State of Illinois office for suspension. If you need more information please call one of our agents, or contact the State of Illinois, Safety and Financial Responsibility Section, 2701 S. Dirksen Parkway, Springfield, Illinois 62723, phone 217-782-3720.

Author’s Note: A number of suggestion and some materials were obtained from the State of Illinois website at http://www.cyberdriveillinois.com/departments/drivers/faq.html.

How Small Businesses Can Prepare For Costly Legal Actions

If you own your own business, even a work at home business, you probably should carry some legal insurance beyond what your existing business, auto and homeowner or renter policies encompass. Your coverage on these policies may or may not cover legal services required for such situations as false arrest, libel, slander, or invasion of privacy.

The increasing complexities of the legal system trigger the escalation in the costs of lawsuits. This can be exceedingly expensive to a small business proprietor, especially if you have a home based business. You simply can’t afford to hope that you will never be mixed up in a costly legal proceeding.

Hiring an attorney to defend some claims against you or your business may destroy a small business. With money so tight these days, what small business owner can find the money to pay a minimum of $200 per hour for a lawyer who specializes in business law? Unless you are running a million dollar business, this type of assistance is far too expensive for most people.

A couple of options are available to you.

First, talk with with your insurance agent to find out what additional policies or riders you can obtain that may cover legal costs for standard legal actions arising from the usual course of business. You might be able to get an umbrella plan that will expand both the dollar limits of your current coverage as well as increase the number of situations covered. An umbrella plan can be an inexpensive answer to your legal exposure.

A second choice is a prepaid legal plan that protects you, your family, and your business. Typically, for a fixed monthly or annual price your will obtain a collection of legal services that are tailored to the requirements of a small business.

One widely used and helpful feature of a prepaid legal plan is your option to have phone conversations with your attorney. You can talk about potential issues with your attorney and obtain his or her legal advice before you do something that could produce a lawsuit. This is a positive aspect of most plans and can help you avoid lawsuits, saving you a lot of time, expense, and worry.

Many prepaid legal plans also include your attorney’s time for reviewing usual documents and contracts. Without a legal plan you might not consider having contracts reviewed. But, your attorney can suggest ways to improve the contract language and notify you of possible issues. This also can rescue you from lots of headaches.

Prepaid legal plans will also cover your attorney’s time for preparing for and conducting a trial, should a legal situation require a trial. Frequently your plan details the particular types of legal situations that are covered for trail related expenses.

Typical of any legal agreement, you need to read over any prepaid legal plan cautiously to note precisely what services are included as well as their limits. You don’t want to think you have broad coverage when your coverage is extremely limited.

Most plans also provide discounts for services not specifically made available by the plan.

You also should be concerned about the options you will be given for your attorney or law firm. After all, legal specialization and experience play a critical part in your legal status,. Scrutinize the options and ask each potential firm for references from prior clients. If you know other small business owners who have utilized a particular plan, talk about their experiences with them to see their evaluation of the law firm they are working with.

You ought to also check with your state’s Bar Association and the Better Business Bureau to find the background of the attorneys and determine if there are some complaints, including fee disputes, against the firms. Find out about such items as your potential attorney’s educational background, professional track record, and length of time practicing in his or her specialty.

Also, find out about how disputes with your legal plan provider are handled. Determine if they deal with disputes internally or submit them to an objective third party for resolution. This might have a major influence on your relationship with your plan provider.

By and large, as a small business owner, you should consider the risk of legal proceedings against you and make preparations to handle those situations. You will rest easier and perhaps avoid some pretty big expenses in the process.