How to Cut Costs on Legal Fees

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Occasionally, life goes truly pear-shaped and you’re forced to enter the legal system.

Even if you’re not embroiled in a tawdry, tabloid-fodder divorce, there are still legal issues that everyone needs to address, without exception.

The problem?  Or rather, one of many, if you’re having legal problems?

Lawyers are expensive.

Before I go any further:

  1. If you are having criminal court issues, get a lawyer.  Get the best possible lawyer.  Really.   The cost does not compare to a lifetime in jail, or even 10 years.    If you’re facing jail, get the best dang attorney you can find.
  2. I am not only not an attorney, but I’ve never even played one on TV.  I have driven past a law school a couple of times, but never stopped in.   I do know several attorney, carry the business cards of a couple and have a couple on my speed dial, just in case.  If any of them thought I was giving legal advice, I’d be in trouble.  To reiterate: I am not an attorney.  This is not legal advice.  
  3. Don’t do a prenuptual agreement at home.  A prenup will almost always be found unenforceable if both parties don’t have an attorney.

Where was I?   Ah, yes.  Lawyers are expensive, but there are ways to mitigate that.

First, if you are old, and a member of America’s oldest selling-the-contact-information-of-seniors-to-our-sponsors organization, AARP, you can take advantage of their Legal Services Network.  It comes with a free legal consultation, which can take care of a lot of issues by itself.  Beyond that, the LSN comes with pre-negotiated rates, like $80 for a simple will or $50 for a power of attorney.   Call 866.687.2277 or search AARPLSN.com for a list of participating attorneys.

There a couple of things you can handle yourself.

Small claims court, also known as conciliation court.   Typical cases in conciliation court include cases involving sums under $7500(varies by state) that involve  unpaid debts or wages, claims by tenants to get a security deposit, claims by landlords for property damage, or claims about possession or ownership of property.  Fees and procedures vary by state, but generally cost less than $100 to file.   The procedures for your state can be found by googling “small claims court” and the name of your state.

Small worker’s compensation cases can be handled yourself, if they don’t involve a demotion or termination related to the injury.

Apartment and car leases are usually simple and straightforward.  Read them carefully, but you probably won’t need a lawyer.

You can probably  handle your own estate planning and will writing with some decent software.   I love Quicken Willmaker.  It walked me through a detailed will that takes care of my kids, and gave me advice on financing their futures in the horrible event that I am tragically killed before my wonderousness can fully permeate the world.   It also contains forms for promissory notes, bills of sale, health care directives and more.  If you have extensive property, I’d still seek an attorney’s advice, but I’d bring the Willmaker will with me to save some time and money.

Purchase agreements.    A few years ago, I sold a truck to a friend and accepted payments.    I made a promissory note and payment schedule.   When he quit paying or calling me, that paperwork was enough to get the state to accept the repossession when I took the truck back.

A simple no-fault divorce is actually pretty painless, on the scale of divorce pain.    Again, the procedures vary heavily by state.

Other resources for finding legal information free or cheap include www.legalzoom.com and www.nolo.com.

Have you had to do any of your own legal work?  How did it work out?

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  • 17 comments

    Comments

    1. We had an estate planner/lawyer draw up our will and trust and that went great. (She is also a friend and did it at a great rate.) I also used a lawyer to draw up the paperwork for when we sold our house by owner 10 years ago, and that was a great decision. Cost minimal, yet gave us some protection.

      Hopefully we won’t need a lawyer for anything else!

      • I hate the idea of using a lawyer everywhere we should. It’s a good idea, but most of the time, it turns out we didn’t need it. The problem is, when we do need an attorney, we REALLY need it.

    2. Jason, great timing…I just did two posts on finding lawyers and reducing legal fees myself :).

      I never heard of Quicken Willmaker…I’ll have to check that out (i’m in no rush, but I have to take care of that for the fam sooner or later).

      • Willmaker’s sweet. It takes care of most of the basic legal forms people need to use. Even if you don’t trust it, you can use it, then bring the results to an attorney and save yourself a few hundred dollars in legal fees.

    3. Lawyers are expensive, but sometimes they are a necessary evil (sorry to any of our lawyer friends reading this… lol). There is something to be said in investing in someone who is trained to do a job well. Just like a doctor, plumber, or graphic designer, lawyers are well trained for a specific niche that most of us can’t complete ourselves.

      • Most of the lawyers I know are the first to make the lawyer jokes. One attorney I work sends Christmas cards with sharks on the front and lawyer jokes inside.

    4. We are lucky enough to be able to get some services through the military legal dept. It has saved us a bit of money, but I am not sure if they offer estate planning. Would be something to look into since we are headed in that direction.

    5. Thanks for all the advice, we were looking for a lawyer’s advice on a matter with non profit I hold a post in. Those sites listed by you will be helpful to us.

      The best advise we can give to our readers is to never break law, while driving or dealing with business. That should be the best way to avoid legal cost

      • With the number of valid laws on the books, it’s almost impossible to avoid breaking the law. Ignorance of the law isn’t a legal excuse, but it should be. There are hundreds of thousands of laws on the books. It’s not possible to know them all. Some of them are just insanely easy to break without realizing it. My favorite example is the pill-scheduling boxes, that let you keep track of which pills you need to take which day. Putting a prescription pill in that box, as opposed to the prescription pill bottle, is a crime.

        What kind of non-profit do you work with? I’m the webmaster for a local civil rights group.

    6. Great advice. Lawyers are stupidly expensive, which makes equitable access a real challenge. We need all the help we can get to access the best legal advice.

    7. I have done my own legal work, but I am an attorney lol. I am really warn against people doing their own estate plan, except when you *know* you have the simplest of situations. The problem is that without a conversation with properly trained Counsel you may unknowingly think you have a simple situation

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