In seeking legal information or advice, there are many resources at your disposal. In the age of the Internet, the number of choices can be simultaneously liberating and overwhelming.
First, you should ask yourself if you actually need to consult with an attorney. Because most attorneys bill for their time, it is useful to know when consulting with an attorney is necessary and when it is not.
Essentially, if you need legal advice, you must consult with an attorney. Legal advice refers to an attorney applying his or her legal expertise to your specific set of facts, and then telling you how you should proceed. Nobody except an attorney is qualified to give legal advice. If a non-attorney (a law student, paralegal, etc.) offers to give you legal advice, you should immediately decline.
If you have determined that you require legal advice, you need to consult with an attorney. Your state bar association should have lists of every attorney licensed to practice in your state, further divided by practice area. Many state bar websites also have links to licensed attorney referral services. Using one of these services, you can be very certain that any attorney to whom you are referred is properly licensed and in good standing.
If you determine that you do not need legal advice, and only need legal information, you have many more options. Anyone who is knowledgeable about the law is technically qualified to give legal information. Legal information is simply a statement of what the law is, rather than an application of the law to a specific factual situation.
There are many organizations which provide legal information and other types of legal aid (short of legal advice and representation) for little or no cost. Services such as Law Help maintain national lists of organizations providing free legal aid, divided by the type of legal question, and locality, allowing you to easily find free and relevant legal aid in your area.
If you are unsure as to whether you require legal advice or simply legal information, and the matter is not urgent, you should probably seek legal information first. If the conversation looks like it is headed into an area where legal advice might be needed, whoever you are speaking with should let you know that they are not qualified to give you legal advice, and will suggest that you contact an attorney.
If the matter is urgent or time-sensitive, it is probably best to find an attorney right away. In such a situation, the worst that can happen is that you end up not requiring the attorney’s services. If, however, you delay in consulting with an attorney when you need one, the consequences can be far more dire: you may lose your right to file a lawsuit, for example.
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