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.
- 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
Bankruptcy – Pro 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 records – Clean 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
BALI – Bay 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.