Not all legal disputes require the use of a lawyer. While lawyers are certainly the only individuals who are authorized to practice law or give legal advice, there are some situations that you can handle on your own - such as fighting a traffic ticket or disputing small-claims issues. In some cases, you may also receive legal help from non-lawyers, such as paralegals and legal assistants under certain limited circumstances.
Below is a list of sources that may help resolve certain legal questions.
Paralegals, also called legal assistants, are non-lawyers with some legal training who work under the direct supervision of licensed attorneys. Paralegals often perform substantive legal work, including legal research and the preparation of documents, but they may not provide legal help without an attorney's supervision. One advantage of working with a paralegal is cost, since their time is billed at a lower rate than their supervising attorneys.
Notary publics are non-lawyers authorized to administer oaths and witness the signing of important documents, such as wills and mortgages, but otherwise are not trained to provide additional legal help. Regardless, a notary public's official seal carries the full weight of the law for the purpose of validating signatures and oaths used in a wide variety of legal and financial documents.
Monetary disputes where the dollar amount is less than a few thousand dollars (between $3,000 and $10,000, depending on the state) may be resolved in small claims court. While some states prohibit the use of attorneys in small claims court (including California and Michigan), most states allow parties to have counsel. However, it usually is not cost-effective to hire a lawyer for small claims.
Most states also have alternative dispute resolution centers, which specialize in helping people who have disputes resolve them outside of the courts. While arbitration typically is legally binding and arbitrators tend to be attorneys or retired judges, mediation is not binding. Mediators, who often are non-lawyers, don't make a final decision but rather suggest one or more solutions to a given dispute. In essence, the mediator is a neutral party tasked with encouraging two adversaries to resolve their differences on their own.
If you know which document you need or wish to learn about a particular legal topic, you may purchase legal forms and legal self-help guides at a so-called "storefront operation." The people who work at these establishments typically are non-lawyers and are thus prohibited from suggesting documents or otherwise practicing law. If you choose to purchase forms from a storefront operation and then fill them out on your own, you're representing yourself for that legal procedure. Individuals with legal questions increasingly have been turning to the Internet for answers and/or do-it-yourself legal kits, but make sure you're using a trusted source.
Some websites focus on providing free legal information to the public, including recent news and events affecting the laws in the states. FindLaw is one of those resources that provides extensive legal information at its Learn About Law section; professional legal advice at its FindLaw Answers forum; and a wide variety of self-help legal document services from FindLaw Forms. You may also find legal help by searching attorney blogs, which typically are written for non-lawyers.
Keep in mind that using something other than a lawyer to handle your legal need does not constitute actual legal advice. Only licensed attorney's in the state may provide legal advice that you may act upon pursuant to a written legal agreement between you and the lawyer.