Lawyering up
January 12, 2011 12:10 PM   Subscribe

Okay, so I think I need to talk to a lawyer. Never done this before. How do I find a reputable lawyer to talk to?

This concerns a (hopefully) straightforward civil issue I've encountered at the educational institution I attend. In essence, I need someone to tell me what my rights are in the situation, and if it makes sense, for that person to then write a letter or two on my behalf.

So how do I find someone who can help me?
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There is a Get a lawyer page on the MeFi wiki that has some good advice and resources for finding a lawyer.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:15 PM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

[ sock puppet here ] To clarify, this is at a U.S. public university, so I feel I have quite a lot of recourse, if only I can understand my options and act on them...
posted by Negative, I am a meat popsicle at 12:17 PM on January 12, 2011

[few comments removed - be helpful, thanks]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:20 PM on January 12, 2011

Many colleges and universities have a Student Legal Services organization that can offer you resources and point you in the right direction. For example:

UC Berkley Student Legal Services
NC State Student Legal Services
posted by rhiannonstone at 12:23 PM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

It depends. If this is an issue of gender or race discrimination against a student or employee, then I'd start with looking for employment lawyers, because they deal with very similar issues.
posted by yarly at 12:28 PM on January 12, 2011

Find out if your educational institution has an ombudsman office.
posted by jchaw at 12:38 PM on January 12, 2011

Your local city, county, or state bar association likely has a referral service where you can describe your problem and be referred to an attorney that could possibly assist.

The American Bar Association also has a big directory that will eventually point you to these resources too.
posted by midatlanticwanderer at 12:48 PM on January 12, 2011

I suggest looking up your state's State Bar. I work for the Oregon State Bar and we have a referral service that would help you. It only costs $35 for the initial consultation.
posted by tacodave at 1:13 PM on January 12, 2011

As a student, you have a few non-lawyerly options for people who can put the clamp down on the other party. (I wouldn't blame you for seeking a lawyer, though, and would still encourage you to do so. IANAL.) You should probably start with your Dean of Students' office, whether your situation involves another student or a staff member. They will help you figure out how to proceed.

If this is a discrimination or harassment issue, your university will have some sort of equity and diversity office or another kind of clearinghouse for investigating these types of complaints. Regardless of whether you are a student or faculty/staff member, this is where you should go. My large public university (where, in fact, you may possibly be a student) has this page outlining the process for reporting these complaints. If you are elsewhere, the process will likely be similar, but check to make sure.

Here, at least, this is separate from both the ombuds office (called Employee Assistance) and the university's legal office (which speaks on behalf of the university in legal matters, including whether the university was liable in harassment cases, etc.).

In terms of finding a lawyer, I've found that wading through the ABA recommendations can be a pain and doesn't give you a real sense of how that person might work. In my experience, there's nothing wrong with asking someone you know if they've worked with a lawyer -- any kind of lawyer -- and contacting that person for a referral. If, for example, someone you know had a lawyer friend who helped them with real estate paperwork, or a divorce, give that lawyer a call. Say, "My friend Alice had a good experience with you when she was selling her house, and I am hoping to tap into your network of colleagues for some assistance in a civil matter. I know your website says that's not in your area of practice, but could you recommend someone nearby whom you'd trust with this sort of thing? I'd really appreciate a personal recommendation to help narrow down the field." (Check out their website first to see what areas of practice the firm covers; that can help.)

This lawyer will likely be able to say, "Sure; our firm has a bunch of people in that practice area, and Jane Green or Mike Patterson are great at this sort of thing" or "I went to law school with Jeff and he's over at Anderson and Hugginkiss now; he's had a lot of experience with this." The key is to find someone you trust, then someone they trust, and so on down the line.

Do NOT, however, let someone represent you just because they know you. This is especially important because you want someone with specific experience in the area you're looking for. Do NOT let an estate planner (who happens to be really nice and lives next to your parents) try to fix something about sexual harassment. Smart lawyers will defer to others in both of these situations.
posted by Madamina at 1:13 PM on January 12, 2011

Many colleges and universities have a Student Legal Services organization that can offer you resources and point you in the right direction.

Your institution's student legal services office is probably prohibited from representing you in any matter concerning the institution.

You may still want to talk an external lawyer to get an unbiased view of your rights. However, if your institution has an ombudsman, that can also be a good person to talk to you.
posted by grouse at 1:35 PM on January 12, 2011

As a lawyer, I get practically all of my clients through referrals from other lawyers. When I need a lawyer myself, or I need to pass a client on to someone else, I ask the other lawyers I know for recommendations. It's like car mechanics -- you'll do a lot better with personal recommendations than just picking someone from the yellow pages.

Obviously it's harder if half your friends aren't lawyers, but maybe something similar will work? Either ask on local forums whether anyone has worked with a lawyer they like on a similar problem, or ask any lawyer friends/family in the area to recommend someone in the right field?

Good luck.
posted by jhc at 2:13 PM on January 12, 2011

Well, my neighbor is a lawyer. So is my wife's uncle. Neither is the kind of lawyer who would be helpful for this sort of advice (wrong field for one, wrong state for the other). But I would trust either of them to refer me to someone who would be able to help me. Do you know a lawyer, of any sort, whom you trust? Ask him or her for a referral to someone he/she knows personally. If your university has a law school, ask someone there for help if you have no other options (or for a referral outside the university, if you feel that a lawyer who is also a U employee would be in a conflict of interest if he/she helped personally).
posted by caution live frogs at 2:28 PM on January 12, 2011

Student Legal Ser4vices can give you a referral.
posted by theora55 at 4:07 PM on January 12, 2011

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