How And Where To Find Professional Legal Help – Alameda County – Part 2 – Paperwork And Research

How and where to find professional legal help – Alameda County – Part 2 of 2 – Paperwork and research

(Link for Part 1 – Legal Advice – of this post can be found – HERE.)

I have decided what needs to be done.  I just need help with completing paperwork.

People can and do represent themselves in court.  They are called “pro per” or “pro se” litigants.  When they file papers with the court, instead of identifying an attorney as their representative on their papers, they write that they are “pro per” or “pro se” in the space where the paper identifies the name of the attorney who is representing them.  People also draft their own legal transactional documents, such as, deeds or simple trusts.

If you plan to represent yourself in court or in a business venture, you can get assistance with the paperwork without hiring an attorney.

Fee based services for document preparation – Legal document or unlawful detainer assistants

Legal document assistants or unlawful detainer assistants (LDAs or UDAs) are not attorneys but are professionals who can provide certain legal services under your direction.  They are knowledgeable in completing legal paperwork.  Their fees, as compared to attorneys’ fees, can be more affordable.  UDAs provide assistance in a court process during which a landlord seeks to have a tenant evicted or pay rent that is owed – an unlawful detainer action.

The profession is governed by the CA Business and Professions Code 6400 et seq.  An LDA or a UDA  must complete the legally required education, maintain a $25,000 bond, and register with the county in which they intend to work. They must inform clients that they are not lawyers in their first interaction, disclose their registration number, registration expiration date, and county of registration, and provide clients with a “Notice to Consumer” prior to conducting business, acknowledging that assistants have provided that information.  More info here.

Notaries, under California law, cannot provide legal assistance services.  A notary or notary public serves the public as an impartial witness in performing a variety of official fraud-deterrent acts related to the signing of important documents. These official acts are called notarizations, or notarial acts. Some LDAs (and attorneys) may also be notaries but not all notaries are LDAs.

Notarios or notarios publicos, who in other countries are highly trained legal professionals akin to attorneys, are not allowed to practice law under California law. Many non-attorneys conduct business as immigration consultants or notarios.  In the current session (2017) of the California legislature, a bill has been introduced to eliminate this type of legal assistance unless the individual is an attorney or authorized by federal law due to widespread fraud and abuse by many individuals.

Finding professionals
  • The California Legal Documents Assistants (CALDA) web page allows you to search and identify LDAs in your area.  CALDA is a professional organization.  Membership is not a requirement under California law.
  • Check Yellow Pages online and print.

For current LDA/UDA registration information in Alameda County, you can visit, in person, the General Business department at the Clerk-Recorder’s offices.  On the Alameda County website, you can search in the Index by name for the last filing of the required professional bond by an individual.

  • Search Official Public Records for the county.
  • Click Search Records. Click link to enter site.
  • On the search screen move to the Name field. Enter the name (last, first).
  • Click the Search button to bring up the results.
Legal aid/pro bono services for document preparation

For low or no-cost help with step-by-step completion of court or other legal forms, your best bet is to attend one of the legal clinics described within this document.

  • VLSC – If you meet income guidelines, the Alameda County Volunteer Legal Services Corporation holds monthly legal clinics for some areas of law.  The group offers clinics on family law, as well as, for low income landlords.  The landlord clinic provides step-by-step instructions on how to evict a tenant.
  • Alameda County Superior Court Self Help/Family Law Facilitators – The Hayward center provide workshops, and information and assistance with: family law child support, custody/visitation, unlawful detainers, small claims, general civil actions, name changes, guardianships, family law clinics (Spanish), restraining orders: civil harassment, domestic violence and elder abuse.  You may be referred to the VLSC clinics.  The center will help with the selection of forms, as well as, review completed court forms for filings on subjects listed above.
  • California Courts web site –  The California courts are continually adding to the information available under their Self Help Center web page.  There are guides and information sheets with instructions for completing selected Judicial Council forms.  Open the Forms tabs on the topic/issue drop down menu to see if what is available for that area of law.
  • Nolo publications – the Alameda County Law Library (and other public libraries) has an extensive collection of materials published by this legal publisher whose titles are written for non-lawyers.  Many of these publications have sections which present detailed step-by-step instructions for completing the most frequently used California court forms.  A reference librarian can help you identify a title that may help with your forms.  Alameda County residents can also access most (but not all) Nolo titles through ACLL’s web site.  The Legal Databases page  has a link to the EBSCO Legal Information Reference Center.   Information on how to access the database is available HERE.

The ACLL staff are not able to sit down with you to complete legal forms.  They provide guidance for resources that can help you complete the forms yourself.

Research sources for legal information to help you decide your next steps
  • ACLL – The Alameda County Law Library is open to the public. The library is a repository of legal information.  Our resources are available in print and online.  Staff can provide legal resource recommendations and guidance on how to use the resources. Staff can also refer you to other organizations and websites that may be able to answer your questions.
  • Lawyers in the Library – To help you get started in the right direction.  Volunteers provide free consultation and referrals on a wide variety of issues including landlord-tenant disputes, probate matters, employment problems, and other general consumer issues.  These consultations take place at public libraries on a rotating basis throughout the month.  Sessions last for about 15 minutes per patron.  More information, including a monthly calendar, available HERE.
  • California Courts Self-Help Center (online) – The Judicial Branch of the California Courts’ Self-Help Center provides introductory level legal information on many consumer law topics.

There are many websites and blogs that provide reliable legal information – too many to mention here individually.  Check with a reference librarian at ACLL for recommendations for your topic.  Or try an internet search using different browsers.  Different browsers bring up different results.  Remember that paid advertisements are placed first on results list by internet companies.  Check out different sites – looking for “.gov” or “.org” at end of a sites URL or internet address.  These will be non-profit or government websites.

Miscellaneous resources for pro pers by topic

BankruptcyPro se/Pro bono services affiliated with the United States Bankruptcy Court Northern District of California.

Oakland Public Library has a special Lawyers in the Library session dedicated to bankruptcy questions on the first Wednesday of the month.

Criminal recordsClean Slate program – The Alameda County Public Defender provides help with cleaning up your criminal record within the county.

Consumer justice – EBCLC has a clinic every Thursday 10:00 am to 1:00 pm, clients can receive advice or limited scope assistance with civil legal issues including consumer law, DMV, small claims, tort defense and homelessness

Domestic violence restraining orders – Family Violence Law Center,  1-800-947-8301

More miscellaneous

BALIBay Area Legal Incubator – new program for young attorneys getting started in their profession providing legal assistance at affordable rates.  BALI offers frees clinics, check the website.

The unauthorized practice of law

When people offer to assist you with legal advice in exchange for payment of money but are not attorneys, this is called the unauthorized practice of law (CA Business and Professions Code 6125 et seq.) and is illegal.   Contact local law enforcement, the Alameda County Bar Association, or the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office to report activity.

 

How And Where To Find Professional Legal Help – Alameda County – Part 1

How and where to find professional legal help in Alameda County

Ask yourself first – what help do I need?

  • I have a problem. I don’t know what I need to do. I need advice on my legal options.
  • I have decided what needs to be done. I need help completing the paperwork. (Part 2 of this post, coming soon.)
  • I have a problem but I would like to do some background research first before deciding how best to handle the issue. (Part 2 of this post, coming soon.)
I have a problem I don’t know what I need to do.  I need to talk to someone about my legal options.

“The law” does not always provide you with simple this-or-that or yes-or-no options.  Your situation will involve individual facts that will need to be reviewed in light of current law – cases or statutes (federal or state or even another county.)  It can be complicated.  That is why there is a legal profession.  There is a good reason that the profession and the public relies on special information collections housed in law libraries like the Alameda County Law Library.  There is an incredible amount of legislative, regulatory, and court case information that needs to be organized, retrieved, and analyzed to answer legal questions.  Lawyers and self-represented parties need to do research to make sure the law they are relying on is up-to-date.  New laws are enacted and cases decided on a daily basis.  The law changes constantly.  Just look at what is happening in Washington, DC, these days.

There are many sources of legal information but only a lawyer, who is a licensed professional, can provide you with legal analysis and advice on your options.

In the US, states license lawyers. In California, this organization is the State Bar of California.  You may hear references to organizations such as the Alameda County Bar Association but these are professional organizations.  Joining these local groups does not allow a member to practice law in the area.

In the US, the terms “lawyer” and “attorney” are used interchangeably.  A litigator is an attorney whose legal practice centers on going to court or keeping clients out of the courts.  A transactional lawyer is someone whose practice focuses on giving advice and drafting documents related to legal transactions, such as, starting a business or setting up a trust.

To begin, here are some resources that will provide you with things to think about before you hire an attorney:

How to find an attorney – Fee for services

From the State Bar’s website – “What can a certified lawyer referral service  do for you?”

        • Can refer you to a lawyer who has experience in the field of law that relates to your case.
        • Will refer you to attorneys who are insured. All lawyers who participate in certified lawyer referral services must carry malpractice insurance to protect their clients. This means that if your lawyer does something wrong, and you successfully sue for malpractice, the lawyer will have the ability to pay.
        • Will screen your call to determine whether you have a legal problem — or need some other type of assistance. And if you do need another type of assistance, the referral service can refer you to government agencies or other organizations that may be better suited to assist you. For example, you might have a problem that could be handled, without charge, by a rent control board or community mediation program.
        • Will only refer you to an attorney who has met certain standards of experience and is a State Bar member in good standing.
        • Will only refer you to an attorney who has agreed to do fee arbitration in the event of a fee dispute.
        • May be able to provide an attorney at a reduced rate. Lawyer referral services are required to make arrangements to serve people with limited means.
        • May be able to provide you with a bilingual attorney.
Lawyer directories – non-commercial
  • You can use the State Bar attorney listings to find attorneys in a geographic area.  You can also search to see who may have received any of the 11 certified legal specialty designations from the Bar Association. The California State Bar has a limited number of specialties.  The information available from this site is minimal but it can be a good non-commercial site to start your search for names.  Find certified legal specialists in your county or try the Advanced Search tool to locate attorneys who speak specific languages or practice in certain cities.

Lawyer directories – commercial directories
Advertisements

Yellow pages, TV, legal newspapers.  Caution – such advertisements are paid marketing. The TV ads with phone numbers usually will direct you to a call in-take center.

I have some names.  How do I check on the lawyer’s background?
  • Check the attorney’s California State Bar listing.  You can make sure the individual is currently in good standing – able to practice law within California. You can also check on entries for any prior issues that were reported to the Bar and made public.
  • Review information on attorney’s website or their firm’s website. The site may give you information about the types and range of legal matters (specialist or generalist) an attorney handles.
  • Run searches for the attorney’s name using different internet browsers. You may be able to find news articles written by the individual or discover newsworthy cases he or she has handled.
  • While doing you internet search, check to see if the attorney has a professional blog or is active on other social media sites – Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.  Reading the postings may give you a sense of whether you would be comfortable dealing with this individual.
  • No-cost searching for other court cases an attorney has handled will require searching multiple courts case info pages.  Search access varies by individual court.  There are expensive commercial databases that track this information but these are not available to the average person.
    • Currently — for Alameda County Superior Court – you can search by attorney name in the recent online criminal records.
I can’t afford to pay for professional help.

Legal Aid (low cost or no cost pro bono.  Pro bono is short for pro bono publico, a Latin term that means “for the public good.”)

Criminal – Alameda County Public Defender.  From the AC Public Defender’s website – Overview

Overview If you have been charged with a crime and cannot afford an attorney, you will be assigned an attorney from the public defender’s office. Our office’s practice consists predominantly of criminal defense litigation. We defend adults and juveniles charged with crimes ranging from petty-theft to capital murders. The office also defends individuals subject to involuntary psychiatric, civil commitments and conservatorships.

Additionally, our office represents individuals in certain specialty or collaborative courts, such as homeless court, drug court and mental health court. Most collaborative courts look to alternatives to incarceration in order to provide individuals with the services and treatment that they need.

Non-criminal – You may be able to connect to an organization that provides free or low-cost legal assistance for non-criminal matters.  Your eligibility for these services depends on your level of income and/or the subject of your legal problems.  Some organizations handle a variety of issues.  Some focus on serving certain social demographic groups.  Some offer classes or clinics to assist you in handling your own legal problems.

Alameda County legal aid organizations that handle a range of issues:

There are many others that focus on certain clientele – for example, Legal Assistance for Seniors.

Pro bono – you may receive a referral from a legal aid organization to a private attorney willing to forgo a fee or take a reduced fee for your type of case.

Pro bono should not be confused with the term “pro se” or “pro per” – a term used when a non-lawyer represents him or herself in court proceedings.  A non-lawyer can represent his or her own legal interests but is not allowed to represent another party.

The Volunteer Legal Service Corporation (VLSC) is the pro bono arm of the Alameda County Bar Association. VLSC provides free legal aid to low-income people in Alameda County through pro per legal clinics staffed by volunteer attorneys. The goal is to assist people in learning how to represent themselves.

Not all legal issues are handled by pro bono legal services.  At the ACLL Reference Desk, we are regularly asked where to find a pro bono attorney for a probate case.  The Alameda County Superior Court’s Probate Court hears cases related to personal and financial affairs of adults and children.  The Probate Division handles guardianship for children and conservatorships for incapacitated adults.   There are legal aid groups that serve members of these communities.  The Superior Court’s Self Help center will give some help for establishing guardianships and conservatorships.

Most people have heard the phrase “probating a will” – the distribution of assets when someone dies.  Or what can be more complicated for heirs –  “dying intestate”  – without having written a will.  It is not easy to obtain pro bono legal services when legal matters involve claims for valuable assets – such as a case about who inherits a house or bank accounts.  Legal aid groups do not usually handle these types of matters unless the party involved is a minor or disabled and therefore incapable of handling business matters for themselves.

 

 On Part 2 (coming soon) of this post will be covered two other approaches to handling the need for legal services:

  • I have decided what needs to be done. I need help completing the paperwork.
  • I have a problem but I would like to some research first before deciding how best to handle the issue.

California Forms of Pleading & Practice – Using Lexis Advance To Search Online

The Alameda County Law Library currently subscribes to the online version of California Forms of Pleading and Practice – Annotated (CA FP&P), a comprehensive resource with wide coverage for California legal procedure.  This title provides the researcher with guidance for all types of civil actions.  The digital version is available through the Lexis Advance database on the ACLL public access computers.  It is an excellent place to begin any California legal research project.

Restricting Your Search on Lexis Advance to the title California Forms of Pleading & Practice at ACLL

  • Access the Lexis Advance Home screen. It is the opening screen with the “Big Red Box” across the top of the screen. Image is below
  • In the box, begin typing the title “California Forms of Pleading and Practice”

  • Look at drop down menu that automatically appears below the box as you type.
  • Click on the name of the title “California Forms of Pleading & Practice”

NOTE: ACLL’s only Secondary Source full text subscription is to CA FP&P.  Other links are not active.

  • Lexis Advance will add the CFP&P as the source file in the box on the right end within the Big Red Box.  Your search universe has now been narrowed to only CA FP&P.

 NOTE: Lexis Advance has a separate file for “Forms from California Forms of Pleading & Practice.”  Be careful which file you select from the drop down menu selection under the Big Red Box or you will may limit your search results in a way you do not wish.  Or – by selecting only the Forms file, you can better limit your search results.

The researcher can now proceed with steps as with any Lexis search.  Results will only include references to CA FP&P.

Another way to restrict searches to CA FP&P

You can also restrict your Lexis Advance searching to CA FP&P by working through a series of the screens to select the title.

Starting on the Lexis Advance Home page:

  • Select “Secondary Materials” link
  • On the next screen that appears, select “California” from the list under “State”
  • On the screen displaying the Lexis California treatises, select “California Forms of Pleading and Practice – Annotated”

  • This method places the researcher on the Advance Search page.

 

Court Records – Alameda County Superior Court

The Alameda County Superior Court has a page on its website that does a great job summarizing what Alameda County court records are available to the public and how to access the records – either online or in-person.

Restrictions apply for public access to family court and juvenile court matters.  Probate court records are only available by going to the Berkeley Courthouse in person.

The link to the page is  HERE.

Here is a link to a Word document including links with the information current as of 3/30/2017 – How to Access Case Information Alameda County Superior Court

Here is the currently available information:

How to Access Case Information
Online The public may access many case records (information and documents) online through DomainWeb or Odyssey Portal.
In Person Individuals may research court records in person at no cost.  Public access terminals and indexes are available for public use.  To find out where a case record can be viewed, please call one of the Records Units at the telephone numbers listed below.  Please note that files may only be viewed on the premises.  Files may not be taken or removed from designated areas at any time.

Click here for hours of service.

Research Assistance You may request a records search in person or by mail; the Court does not provide research services over the telephone.

Please indicate in your search request which years you would like searched.  There is a fee for each name searched. (Searching records or files, for each search longer than 10 minutes – $15

For Help If you would like to speak with someone about accessing records, please call the Records Units at the telephone numbers listed below. You may request a records search in person or by mail; the Court does not provide research services over the telephone.

 

Fees & Payment This link to the Fees provides the current cost of research and copying services available.

You may pay for records searches and copying charges in person with cash, credit card, or money order.  You have the option of submitting Criminal Record Requests online and may pay for them using a MasterCard or Visa.

Please do not submit cash or credit card information by mail.

 

 

  Online In Person
Civil Records Many non-confidential civil case records are available online through DomainWeb.  

 

Civil case records can be accessed in person at the following locations:

Rene C. Davidson Courthouse: 510-891-6005
Hayward Hall of Justice: 510-690-2705

George E. McDonald Hall of Justice:

 

Criminal Records The public may now view criminal case information via the Odyssey Portal.  Public access does not include access to documents. Case information is available only for cases that have had any activity since 2005. This service is free and members of the public are not required to register.

 

Copies of non-confidential criminal case documents may be ordered online through the Criminal Record Requests portal. The copies will be mailed or emailed to you.

 

If you require a letter with an actual signature and court seal as documentation for immigration purposes, do not use the online Criminal Records Request portal. Instead, the request must be mailed to Gale Schenone Hall of Justice, 5672 Stoneridge Dr., Pleasanton, CA. 94588, Attn: Criminal Division.

Enclose a check or money order for .96 (per letter drawn on a US bank) payable to Superior Court, County of Alameda. Please do not send cash. Include the Requestor Name, Requestor Complete Address (mailing address), Requestor Phone Number, Defendant Name, Defendant Docket Number and Date of Birth.

Information is available for many criminal cases opened since 1974.

*NEW* The public may now view criminal case information via Odyssey Kiosk, available on public terminals at select court locations. Public access includes access to public documents. Case information is available only for cases that have had any activity since 2005.

If you know the court location where the case was heard, please contact that location. If you do not know the court location please call one of the following Criminal Divisions:

-Rene C. Davidson Courthouse, Oakland:

(510) 891-6009

-Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse, Oakland:

(510) 627-4700

-Hayward Hall of Justice: (510) 690-2703

-Fremont Hall of Justice: (510) 818-7501

-Gale-Schenone Hall of Justice, Pleasanton:

(925) 227-6700

 

For viewing felony cases prior to 1974, use the public microfiche in Room 107, 1225 Fallon Street, Oakland or contact the California Department of Justice.

Family Law Records Limited information about family law cases is available on DomainWeb.  Family law case documents are not available online. Family Law court records can be accessed in person at the following locations:
George E. McDonald Courthouse, Alameda:(510) 263-4304Hayward Hall of Justice, Hayward: (510) 690-2702Rene C. Davidson Courthouse, Oakland:(510) 891-6005
Juvenile Records Persons who wish to have access to juvenile court records must petition the juvenile court pursuant to California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 827.  The petition must be submitted on Judicial Council form JV-570.

Juvenile Court records include the records maintained in the Juvenile Dependency Court legal file and records maintained by the social worker and the Social Services Agency (except any communications between the social worker and his/her attorney).  Juvenile Court records do not normally include police reports.

For more information about submitting JV-570, please call the Juvenile Clerk’s Office at

(510)267-6922.

Probate Records Images are available for documents filed after January 31, 2006, except for conservatorships, guardianships and confidential documents. Probate court records can be accessed in person at the following locations:

Berkeley Courthouse: (510) 647-4439
Rene C. Davidson Courthouse
(510) 891-6005

 

Traffic Records You may look up your citation here. Traffic Division’s database is now paperless.  You may request a document from your case (e.g., citation, minutes, etc.) and staff at any Traffic Court location can print it for you.

 

Adoption Records Adoption records are confidential and access to adoption records may be obtained by court order only. For more information regarding adoption records, please call (510) 891-6003.
Administrative Records Click here for more information about accessing judicial administrative records.
Vital Records Vital records (e.g., birth, death, and marriage records) are maintained by the County. Click here for more information.

Spring Into Action – New Way To Support ACLL – Sign Up For eScrip

Spring is here.  The sun is shining (sometimes.)  Gardens are waking up.  Excellent time to plant some seeds that will sprout into good works that will help our community.

Shop at eScrip merchants and earn for Alameda County Law Library!  Haven’t signed up for eScrip yet? Please take a few minutes and do so now. Once you get to the site, you can find “Alameda County Law Library” using the Advance Search function.

 

Watch this short video – spend 2 minutes today and support Alameda County Law Library all year long!