Affordable and Free Legal Assistance in Colorado
By: Julie Kreutzer, Esq.
Doing a case on your own is hazardous for a number of reasons. Most people aren’t familiar with legal terminology, processes or the statutes and caselaw that are critical to getting their case done with a good result. However, paying the usual price for an attorney is unaffordable for many businesses and individuals so they want affordable, low cost or free help. In addition to paying close attention to guidance from the Court, reading all Orders carefully and being detail oriented, the following resources might help you:
Family Court Facilitators
These people assist parties going through a divorce, but they don’t do post-decree matters. They meet you at the Interim Status Conference, help with paperwork and give you and overview of the process. They can review your documents for completeness and will at times email a party to let them know if they are missing a deadline. However, it’s important to know they typically meet with parties once and it’s hard to reach them by phone because they’re in conferences all day and have limited time to answer all the voicemail they receive. Keep in mind, their job is to make sure paperwork is done correctly and the case works its way through the system smoothly, but they cannot advise you since they are impartial, and they don’t have the time or responsibility to make sure you are pursuing your case in the best way to get a good result. Boulder County tends to offer more assistance, other counties, often considerably less. Facilitators are an invaluable asset to filing complete documents and clarifying what the Court expects.
Pro Se Coordinators
These people help with other matters like county court cases. They cover a broad range of cases but just like the Facilitators, they can answer some questions and assist with paperwork, but they really can’t advise you through the process. Their time is also limited. Pro Se Coordinators are also invaluable at filing complete documents and clarifying how your court process works.
Pro bono Services
Legal Services or Bridge to Justice offer free or low-cost services. At times, you may have a suggestion for an attorney who might assist you but this is a good time to be at your best and concise when describing the issue because asking an attorney to dedicate a significant amount of time to you and your legal case is not something attorneys do unless they have the time to do it properly and they have a reason to want to help you (it might be the nature of your case, your charming personality or just that they believe in doing some pro bono work and can fit it in.) Let me emphasize that when I answer my phone and I need to spend several minutes calming someone to get some understanding of their case, I still do the consult but am aware that it would be more difficult to represent them. Before you make the call, organize some notes and approach the call as if you were asking a surgeon to operate on you for free. The difference is that the surgeon just needs to do prep and the surgery while the attorney might be spending a year working on your case. This is why Legal Services, Bridge to Justice and private attorneys find it hard to meet the demand for free legal services. Don’t be offended if they refuse since many attorneys get weekly requests for free assistance. If you particularly like an attorney, you could see if they can do sliding scale* that you can afford.
Preferably used in combination with the other services, some websites provide useful information. The State of Colorado has legal forms with instructions. This is a terrific resource for those doing their cases on their own as you have exactly the form the court wants and instructions on how to do it. Each county has a webpage with important information, such as this one for Boulder state courts. Be certain to use only our state’s websites because other states have different laws that don’t apply. Also be careful as to whether any law firm website you find information on, seems credible and updated.
Legal consulting or Unbundling of Legal Services
Attorneys like me, can review documents, make comments on how to improve your documents, draft documents, explain the process, advise you and steer you through the legal process in a detailed way. We can even go to mediation or court with you, but all of this is based on what the client specifically wants and what the attorney is comfortable doing. The wonderful thing about legal consulting is that the client can choose precisely what they need help with and what they can afford. Clients often pay as they go, but sometimes, they’ll put in a small retainer if they anticipate wanting to send emails regularly or for bigger projects. An attorney can also assist you in verifying whether information you have gotten from websites and other sources is correct. Depending on the attorney, some offer sliding scale rates*. Not all attorneys do this, those of us who do, usually offer these services because we want to be sure everyone has some legal advice even if they can’t afford to fully retain an attorney. I decided to do it after watching a particularly awful hearing where it was obvious one party didn’t know what the hearing was about, what sort of evidence was relevant or why the judge was frustrated with him. I felt that if he had spent a half hour with an attorney, he would have done much better and instead, he likely felt the judge didn’t like him or the system wasn’t fair. It’s quite true the system does favor those able to afford counsel so offering legal consulting and some pro bono is my way of making it fairer.
Full Representation, Sliding Scale
This is the traditional attorney-client relationship but requires finding an attorney who is willing to do sliding scale. That’s possible but not a given, since attorneys only do this when they have the time and can afford to do so, as well as have a particular interest in you or your case (I’ve represented homeless women, for example). Typically, the client still must put down a retainer that is meant to cover a lot of the case. The attorney does all the paperwork, deals with opposing counsel or the other party, goes to mediation and court and in short, does most of what is required though the client still needs to attend hearings and mediation with their attorney and assist with information needed for the paperwork. This form of legal help is the easiest in many ways and sometimes is critical (particularly if the case is complex or the client is not comfortable articulating their case). However, even at a lower hourly rate and retainer, it can still be quite expensive, and it is important to know the attorney may require the client to keep putting money back into retainer. Why? Because many cases, particularly domestic relations cases, are involved and take quite a while till the case is settled or has gotten through permanent orders.
Regardless which option you choose, I strongly suggest using some of these options rather than go it alone, as the legal system is complex, so some assistance is critical to getting a good outcome as well as avoid the stress of trying to do it by yourself.
*Sliding Scale means that the attorney is not being paid their usual hourly rate and has agreed to a lower rate.