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.

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Reliable And Free – Internet Legal News Resources

The staff here at the Alameda County Law Library is always on the lookout for no-cost but reliable information sources to share with our patrons.  The library is on a tight budget.  Many of our patrons are too.  Our revenue stream has dropped dramatically over the past decade.   We have had to make adjustments within our collection, making the most of what we have.  We do not have the extra funds to spend on resources that might be just nice to have.  Our patrons rely on our library because they find themselves in a similar situation.

Even attorneys – solo practitioners, members of small firms, or those newly admitted to the Bar – need to be conscious of overhead costs.  The extras that would be nice to have – business development tools such as Bloomberg, Law360, Courtlink, Court Wire and other legal industry news sources — come with a high price tag.  Those titles are marketed to the larger law firms, firms that also have marketing personnel and budgets.  For many people interested in monitoring the current developments in the legal environment even the cost of subscription to a legal newspaper, such of The Recorder or the Daily Journal, can be prohibitive.

What can a resource-challenged legal practitioner to do?  What about your average citizen who has interest but not the funds to track issues and/or cases within the US legal system?

Channeling the flow of information

Below is a curated list of free internet resources – accessible through a web sites or by email subscription – which may help anyone keep up with developments in the area of law – news-worthy new filings, activity in cases, proposed and enacted laws and regulations, developments in the legal profession – at no additional cost other than having access to the internet.

Keys for successful use of the internet as a news resource are:

  • Choose your sources wisely. Be selective.
  • Know that browsers and social media sites are looking for profits.  Browser search algorithms are guiding your search results to items they think you and their paying customers will be happy with – ads are displayed at the top of the list on Google.  Ask yourself – is the site trying to sell me something even if it is just their world view?
  • Organize the delivery of information so you can easily review lists of results, deleting or opening links depending on your interest.
  • Use an internet reader or other software to centralize the flow of posts from information web sites. (Also called news feed software or RSS feed aggregators.) Feedly provides free basic news feed software. This service allows you to gather and store headlines and links gleaned from web sites by subject category.  There are other similar software products.  Internet reader software can be very helpful if you want to monitor the discussions on individual blogs whose authors focus on specialized legal topics.  The Feedly screen also shows the age of post and popularity with other readers.
  •  You might want to set up a separate email account for news readers and to receive digest emails.  The streams of legal news information will not get tied up with work or personal emails.

Digests – Email subscriptions  

Many news organizations provide free digests, but, if you want to share in their work product, they want to know who you are.   The list below includes sources that will not spam you (too much) once you give over your email address.

  • The State Bar of California has a Daily News Digest that provides headlines and links to legal articles with a focus on California, but, it also includes links to reports on events and cases of burgeoning interest across the country.  Many of the links are to items from subscription-only publications but access is granted for some of the articles referenced.  This digest is well-curated and the articles are interesting and well-written.  Sorry, but if you want to track the politics of the State Bar organization, this is not the digest for you.
  • The California courts’ web site has recently developed a news page with links to articles of interest.  Its focus is on the California court system and judges.
  • American Bar Association news alerts and newsletters page.  You will have to give up some personal information and will need to delete a few email solicitations but the cost and quality of the information is worth it.
    • The ABA also has a legal blog directory for those who wish to find and follow blogs that focus on specific areas of law.  (They still use the term “blawg” but don’t hold that against the directory’s editors as the directory itself is very useful.)
    • The ABA Tech Journal may be of interest to those trying to keep up with technology advances in the legal field.
    • National focus.
  • Lexology – aggregates posts from law firm blogs.  Law firms, who are trying to promote their expertise, will tell you for free what they know about the developments in their practice areas.  You can select areas of interest and geographic coverage for your email digests.  Reviewing just the headlines can help you stay informed as to what issues others in your practice area think is important.
    • If you are considering setting up a blog yourself, Lexology is an excellent way to quickly review a wide range of legal blogs.  Who is good, what too much self-promotion reads like in post, what types of headlines you click on.
  • California League of Cities Local News Roundup for those interested in following local area legal news.  Reviewing the titles and links can help you track issues of interest on the community level such as  — legalization of marijuana, tax measures, Airbnb regulation.
    • California focus.

If a digest only provides a title link but not the full text, your local library can help.  County law libraries have legal newspapers and professional periodicals.

News feeds

If you want to set up a newsfeeds/RSS feeds, here are some good sites to start with:

  • Courthouse News Before the creation of many of the case filing alerts subscription services, Courthouse News was the go-to company for keeping informed of new filings.  They now have a home page that provides information (but not the documents) for new court filings, as well as, general legal news.
    •  National coverage.
    • Description from the company’s site – “Courthouse News Service is a nationwide news service for lawyers and the news media. Based in Pasadena, California, Courthouse News focuses on civil litigation, from the date of filing through the appellate level. Unlike other Internet-based publishers that simply aggregate information prepared by other content providers, Courthouse News publishes its own original news content prepared by its staff of reporters and editors based across the country.”
  • ABA Daily News Legal news and court actions.  National coverage.
  • Bloomberg News provides some of its articles for free on its web site.  Focus for this site is  the business of law and Big Law, or, in the words of the late Justice Scalia, “tall building” firms.
  • WSJ Legal Blog Access to blog articles available for free.  National coverage, well-written articles.
  • Reuters Legal News Free access to non-premium legal news. Focus on corporate law.  Reuters owns Westlaw.
  • Sacramento Bee Capital Alert  Good coverage of California legislative activity.  Sites limits the number of full text articles that can be read on your computer per month.
  • Not free but… you may wish to invest in one online subscription to a “national”, professionally written news publication. The New York Times covers the legal profession and legal news.  The Los Angeles Times also has excellent coverage of California legal news.

Dear Reader – Have a free news resources that you find helpful and don’t see on this list? Send word to ACLL at nancy.mcenroe@acgov.org.  It will be added to this post.

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Conflicts of Interest in the Practice of Law – 2015 Witkin Memorial Symposium

witkin_institute_logoConflicts of Interest in the Practice of Law

Richard E. Flamm will be the speaker at the 2015 Bernard E. Witkin Memorial Symposium, May 12, 2015, 12:00 – 1:00 pm.  The program is presented by Alameda County Law Library and the Witkin Legal Institute.  $30 Advance Registration, $40 Day of the Event (buffet lunch included).  Futher registration details at ACLL’s website.

During this presentation, Mr. Flamm will discuss the California Rules of Professional Conduct which regulate conflicts of interest in the practice of law.  Mr. Flamm will also cover the different types of adverse consequences which can attend a finding that an attorney has violated one or more of these rules, as well as, the different ways in which attorneys have attempted to avoid, cure or mitigate those consequences.

About the speaker

Richard E. Flamm is one of the nation’s best known authorities on legal and judicial ethics and the author of three leading treatises: Conflicts of Interest in the Practice of Law: Causes and Cures (2015), Lawyer Disqualification: Disqualification of Attorneys and Law Firms (2d Ed. 2014), and Judicial Disqualification: Recusal and Disqualification of Judges (2d Ed. 2007).  Mr. Flamm has a private consultation practice in Berkeley.

MCLE Ethics credit – 1 hour

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Lawyers in the Library Volunteer – Tim Iglesias – Housing Law/Affordable Housing Expert

One of the many dedicated attorney volunteers for Alameda County’s Lawyers in the Library program

Tim Iglesias, law professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law, organized and co-wrote an amicus brief in a case now before the California Supreme Court.  On Wednesday, April 8, 2015, the court heard oral arguments in CALIFORNIA 2015_tim_iglesias_photoBUILDING INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION v. CITY OF SAN JOSE (AFFORDABLE HOUSING NETWORK OF SANTA CLARA COUNTY) (S212072).  An amicus brief filed in this appeal can be read here.  Others can be found by accessing the California Briefs database at the Alameda County Law Library.

For more discussion on this case, see the article in the SJ Mercury News here.

Recently, Professor Iglesias was a member of the panel of experts discussing the case on KQED’s radio program,  Forum, on April 9, 2015.   The program focused its discussion on the case and its possible impact on the estimated 170 local California governments that have “inclusionary housing” laws including the city of Berkeley in Alameda County.

We, here at Alameda County Law Library, know Professor Inglesias as one of the many dedicated volunteer attorneys who staff the Alameda County Lawyers in the Library program.  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 (including the Alameda County Law Library) on a rotating basis throughout the month. The Lawyers in the Library program is an important step in the library’s mission of providing access to justice to its community.

For more information about the Lawyers in the Library program including volunteer opportunities, please contact Nicole at ACLL at nicole.lemieux@acgov.org.

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.law – Coming To Law Firm Screens This Summer

 ICANN and law firm web domain names – introducing  .law

The new .law web addresses will go on sale to accredited lawyers and law firms during the summer of 2015. What makes a registration for a .law address different from the other familiar top-level domain names, such as .com or .org, which can be used by virtually any organization, is that applicants for web addresses ending with .law will have their legal credentials checked upon registration and renewal.

.law will officially launch in August 2015.

Lou Andreozzi, former Chairman of Bloomberg Law and CEO of LexisNexis North American Legal Markets, has been named CEO of .law by Minds + Machines.  Minds + Machine was granted an exclusive license to market the new generic top level domain .law by Internet Association for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) which governs Internet domain assignments or as the company says in a recent announcement –  “namespace”.

For more information on Mr. Andreozzi and .law, you can read a post from the DeweyB Strategic blog here .  This post includes the full text of the press release issued by Minds + Machines.

More information on .law from the ICANN website is available here.

 

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Brendon D. Woods, Public Defender

Brendon Woods
Brendon Woods

Brendon Woods, Alameda County Public Defender, was appointed effective December 17, 2012. There is an informative article published July 10, 2013 in the East Bay Express at http://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/balancing-the-scales-of-justice/Content?oid=3647260. He has worked in the Public Defender’s Office since 1996, prior to his appointment, his most recent position was Senior Assistant Public Defender under Diane Bellas, his predecessor who retired in March. The Office of Public Defender was created in 1927 when Earl Warren, then Alameda County District Attorney, was successful in having the office included in the county charter. The Office of Alameda County Public Defender is the third oldest office of public defender in the United States. Visit the website for the Alameda County Public Defender Office at http://www.co.alameda.ca.us/defender/ . There is a brief history of the office, a list of services, a list of locations with contact information, jobs, faqs, criminal docket finder, inmate locator, and news.

Baseball and the Lawyer

La Russa
Tony La Russa

The library has many career books for lawyers available for check out like Careers in Administrative Law & Regulatory Practice, Careers in Admiralty and Maritime Law, Careers in Criminal Law, and Turning Points: New Paths & Second Careers for Lawyers as well as many others.  A career path not much explored in print is baseball and law school.

With the San Francisco Giants winning the 2012 World Series after beating the Saint Louis Cardinals and then the Baltimore Orioles, it’s appropriate to concentrate on those teams. Mark Mosler, 2004 graduate of the University of Chicago, played minor league baseball for the Giants from 1997-1999. He is presently in the big leagues as a partner with Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C. Anthony “Tony” La Russa, who retired as manager of the 2011 World Series winning Saint Louis Cardinals, is a 1978 graduate of Florida State College of Law and passed the Florida Bar. He says, “Law school didn’t teach me how to hit the ball or how to run or how to pitch. But, because of law school, I see the game playing out in front of me on the field in a very different way. My legal training taught me to put myself in our opponents’ dugout. Law school taught me how to analyze and how to best deal with a specific situation. The best degree a baseball manager can get is a J.D. The law degree taught me how to study, how to think, and how to implement and develop a strategy.” His off season home is in the Bay area. Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF), a “no-kill shelter” is located in Walnut Creek, California. That brings to mind another book in the library, Careers in Animal Law:Welfare, Protection, and Advocacy.