The Probate & Family Court is an intimidating place. One day recently, I stood in line at the security check and saw a young woman put her infant, complete with carrier, up on the conveyor belt to be X-Rayed. The security guard luckily intervened, “um, ma’am, your baby?”
I imagine she was nervous, so as I watched, hoping that baby wouldn’t take a trip through the conveyor belt, I also related to this young mother. Her anxiousness and fear were palpable, and adding the stress of court I addition to new parenthood, or a divorce, or death of a loved one while you’re left to navigate the legal process alone is overwhelming to most.
In criminal court, when you cannot afford an attorney, you are appointed one, but this is not the case in the Family & Probate Court. When your kids, your life savings, your house, and sometimes even your freedom are at stake, what are some options for a person who cannot merely withdraw many thousands of dollars from their savings account?
LAR Attorney Services
LAR is an abbreviation for “Limited Assistance Representation.”
Say you go to a fast-food restaurant. You could buy a value meal, but what if you’re not thirsty and don’t want to pay the full price with a drink? Sure, it may be cheaper for someone who is thirsty, but maybe that isn’t the best option for you.
The same theory applies with LAR Services. I often explain it to our potential clients as “a la carte” legal services. The up-front cost is much lower, and clients can manage their cases based on their comfort levels and ability to pay.
These levels of service range from consulting and advice only, to ghost-writing documents such as motions, legal memorandums, discovery, agreement, etc., and may also extend to court appearances. LAR Attorney Services in Massachusetts allow an attorney to appear and withdraw in the same day court appearance. This will enable clients to pick and choose which court appearances they want their attorney to appear. For clients who are comfortable stating their case in front of the judge, this can be a great and lower-cost option.
Affidavit of Indigency
The Affidavit of Indigency can be filled out and submitted to the courts by low-income individuals. This Affidavit does not help a person retain legal services; however, it does waive expensive filing fees for qualifying individuals. Please check out the following link for eligibility requirements and application: https://www.mass.gov/lists/court-forms-for-indigency
Reduced Fee Program
If you believe you may qualify for a reduced fee because of your economic situation, the Reduced Fee Panel is another way to save on overall legal fees. The panel links individuals with an attorney that has volunteered to take a certain number of cases on a reduced fee schedule.
Individuals will call those attorneys and schedule a consultation, and will generally have much lower retainers because the hourly fees are less than a practicing attorney’s full rate. If you think you may qualify, please fill out the application at the following link: https://www.worcestercountybar.org/lawyer-referral-service/
Lawyer for the Day Program
Need help getting started? The Worcester Probate & Family Court provides a “lawyer for the day program.” It is a program co-sponsored by Community Legal Aid and the Worcester County Bar Association. The program offers individuals help in filling out Complaints and Motions.
The program primarily helps with navigating paperwork. They do not provide case-specific advice; however, they will walk you through the meaning of each section of the paperwork. For those who cannot afford representation by counsel, it can serve as an alternate option.
Court Service Center
In the Worcester Court, this is located by making a U-turn to the right after you pass security. The program primarily helps with navigating paperwork. They volunteer, and not all volunteers are attorneys. They do not provide case-specific advice; however, they will walk you through the meaning of each section of the paperwork. For those who cannot afford representation by counsel, it can serve as an alternate option.
Help for Victims of Crime
The Civil Legal Aid for Victims of Crime (CLAVC) aids those who are victims of crime in their civil proceedings that are related to that crime. The requirements are as follows:
- You must be a victim or a survivor of a crime;
- You must have a civil (non-criminal) legal problem that is a result of that crime; and
- You must live in Massachusetts, or the legal issue must be in Massachusetts.
If you think this may be an option for you, please visit https://massclavc.org/find-legal-help/ for details regarding the application process.
If you have been calling attorney’s offices looking for pro-bono help and are frustrated, we understand. Most attorneys volunteer many hours of their time for pro-bono and reduced-fee programs. However, most do so through the existing programs. In order to provide this pro bono and reduced fee legal help to the community, these small businesses must also bring in enough revenue to keep the rent paid and the doors open.
If you have any questions at all, please give us a call. Also, please feel free to download Attorney Lavallee’s free e-book, “Divorce is not an Evil Word.” In it, she shares a lot of her experiences and knowledge from her 18 years of practicing law in Worcester County.