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There are some times and situations where a lawyer is clearly needed. There are other situations in which a lawyer can be used and the choice is yours whether to consult with a lawyer. Since our site was founded by a lawyer, our bias is to suggest that if there is any question at all, at least speak with a lawyer about the matter. A discussion with a lawyer will quickly make it clear whether you need to hire him or her to do the work - or perhaps merely to give you advice - or to learn that a lawyer is not necessary. An initial consultation may even be free.

Written materials, books, articles never take the place of legal advice from a lawyer. You may find a situation that seemingly matches yours, but unless you have training and/or experience in a subject, you may miss the one piece of information that seems irrelevant to you, but which totally changes the situation.

If you can't afford a lawyer, you may be eligible for free or low cost legal aid. For more information, click here.

There are alternatives to lawyers who may provide the services you need at a lower cost. See the next section. 

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Lawyers 101

When Do I Need A Lawyer?

You need a lawyer in the following situations:

  • To help respond to any kind of legal action whether you are being sued or need to respond to a subpoena, divorce papers, court order, or other legal mandate from a judge. It's usually wise to consult a lawyer to respond to any inquiry from another lawyer.
  • To assist in filing suit against another party, whether it is an individual, employer, or insurance company. One exception is if you sue in small claims court. In most states, you cannot be represented by an attorney in small claims court.
  • To draw up legal documents.
  • In matters (such as discrimination) where statutes require that your legal fees be paid by others.

There are some situations where it may be premature to hire a lawyer. For instance:

  • Insurance claims: If the insurance company denies a request for medical care, or refuses to pay after the fact, claims issues must usually go through an internal appeals procedure before you can file suit or access regulators. If you follow the appeals procedure and the information in Health Insurance Claims Appeals you may be able to handle an appeal on your own, or with the help of a knowledgeable friend. However, at the least it would be prudent to speak with a lawyer for advice.
  • Social Security applications and initial appeal of denials: Many lawyers will not take Social Security appeals until they reach the Administrative Law Judge level. In addition to being the area where they can help most, the ALJ level is also a stage where their compensation will be highest. For help with a Social Security application and appeals, see Social Security Disability Insurance 101.
  • Doing the preparatory work for legal documents (such as Wills, Guardianship papers, and Trust agreements): While it is advisable to hire a lawyer to prepare these types of documents, you can save money by doing the preparation ahead of time. There are articles on each of these subjects in this site that can help be prepared so you won't be billed for hours of preparatory work. For example, see Wills: Information To Compile.

If you have question whether a lawyer is necessary, call a lawyer who is expert in the field. If the lawyer doesn't have time to speak, tell your situation to his or her assistant and ask if it would be worthwhile to engage the lawyer, at least for some advice.

You can also check with other people to whom you have access or can meet online who have gone through similar situation. Based on the consistency of their answers and guidance, then you can decide if you need confirmation from a lawyer.

Who Can I Turn To Besides A Lawyer?

If you can't get to an affordable lawyer, there are some people who may be able to provide assistance who are not as educated or as expensive as a lawyer. None of these people replace a lawyer. They simply provide assistance for a fee if your problem is in the scope of their experience and authority. Not even paralegals are permitted to practice law, although they can be very helpful in many areas.

Assistance is available through:


In many states, paralegals can assist with document preparation. Paralegals are usually much less expensive than lawyers. There is a national certification program and some states require licensing of paralegals. Two ways to find a paralegal are:

Financial Planners

If a financial issue is involved, even though the subject may involve the legal aspects of a financial issue, an experienced financial planner can help you decide whether it is necessary to speak with a lawyer. To learn more, see: Choosing A Financial Planner.

Benefits Specialists

Sometimes called Benefit Consultants or Benefit Counselors, Benefits Specialists specialize in insurance matters. Benefits Specialists can advocate for you with insurance companies, both with respect to eligibility and claims. This is the case with all types of insurance, including life, health and disability insurance. It is the person's training and experience that qualify him or her. Unfortunately, there is no license, title or central certification process to help you find people who are truly qualified.

Insurance Claims Advocates

These specialists focus on medical insurance claims and help appeal insurance company denials of medical claims. There is a small organization that certifies its members, the Association of Claims Assistance Professionals, ( offsite link). Like benefits specialists, it is a combination of training and experience that counts.

Credit Counselors

See: Credit Counseling.


Many unions provide free or low cost legal advice to members.

Legal Assistance Organizations

There are companies and agencies that provide assistance with helping you handle your own legal matters. While this isn't recommended for more technical issues, sometimes preparation of simple documents and other straight-forward legal issues can be resolved by you directly with their help. One such organization is called "We, the People" ( offsite link). Others may be found in your telephone book or on line.

NOTE: We have never used any of these organizations. If you do, please share your experiences by e mail to Survivorship A to Z.