Once you have decided you need a lawyer, it is a good idea to shop 
around. The first step is to compile a list of names. The recommendation 
of someone whose judgment you trust is an excellent place to start your 
search. You may want to begin by asking relatives, friends, clergy, 
social workers, or your doctor for recommendations. Often those persons 
can refer you to someone who has provided similar legal services for 
them. Remember that you need to know more about the lawyer than simply 
that the person is a good attorney. Ask the persons making the 
recommendation for specific information about the type of legal help the 
lawyer provided them and how their case was handled.      

The following resources may assist you in your search for an attorney:

Bar Association Referral Lists

Many state and local bar associations maintain lawyer referral lists 
organized by specialty. You can consult the lawyer referral service for 
the name of an attorney who specializes in the type of case you have. 
Keep in mind that the referral is not a recommendation nor does it 
guarantee a level of experience. Bar associations may charge 
participating lawyers and law firms a fee to be included on the referral 
list. Also, many bar associations have committees that conduct training 
or public service work for the benefit of older people. An attorney 
serving on one of these committees could have the expertise you are 
looking for. Check the white or yellow pages (under "Lawyers") of the 
telephone book for the number of the state or local bar association.

Other Sources

The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) is a nonprofit 
professional association of attorneys specializing in legal issues 
affecting older persons. NAELA is not a legal referral service; however, 
it does sell a registry listing over 350 member attorneys nationwide 
($25 including shipping and handling).

National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys
1604 N. Country Club Road
Tucson, Arizona  85716
(602) 881-4005

There are also a number of lawyer directories. Two of the larger 
directories are likely to be available at your local library. The 
Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory lists 600,000 American and Canadian 
lawyers alphabetically by state and by categories. Each entry has a 
biography, which includes information on each lawyer's education, 
specialty, law firm, and the date of admittance to the bar. It also 
includes a "rating" based on information supplied by fellow lawyers. It 
does not include a rating by clients or judges. The Who's Who in 
American Law directory lists about 24,000 lawyers and includes 
biographical notes. This directory is somewhat difficult to use as the 
lawyers are listed alphabetically rather than by state or specific area 
of expertise.

Many communities also have other lawyer referral services to assist 
people in finding a lawyer. Often the services are for specific groups 
such as persons with disabilities, older persons, or victims of domestic 
violence. Groups that may be good sources for a local referral include 
the Alzheimer's Association and other support groups for specific 
diseases, Children of Aging Parents, the Older Women's League, the state 
civil liberties union local social services agency, or the local agency 
on aging. Other referral services may be run by groups of attorneys 
specializing in a certain area. Some services may screen the lawyers who 
wish to have referrals in a particular area. If you use a referral 
service, ask how attorneys are chosen to be listed with that particular 
service. Many services make referrals to all lawyers who are members 
(regardless of type and level of experience) of a particular 

Lawyers are permitted to advertise within specific guidelines. You will 
be able to gather some useful information from the publicity, however, 
like advertisements in general, you should always be careful about what 
you read or hear. Many advertisements for attorneys specializing in 
certain areas of the law (such as personal injury or medical malpractice 
in which there may be substantial fees) offer free consultations. Other 
advertisements may list a set fee for a particular type of case. It is 
always a good idea to investigate further and to comparison shop. Many 
attorneys who do not advertise may also provide free consultations or 
offer set fees for a certain legal problem. Also, keep in mind your case 
may not be a "simple" one and set fees are usually for routine, 
uncomplicated cases.

In addition, the court and your banker may be good referral sources. 
Finally, the telephone book often lists lawyers according to their 


There are a number of options for finding affordable legal help.  
Federally funded legal services programs exist in every state and there 
are pro bono or reduced-fee attorney panels and legal hotlines in a 
number of states.

Free Legal Help for Older People

The Older Americans Act (OAA) requires your state office on aging to 
fund a local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) program that provides free legal 
help on noncriminal matters to people age 60 and over. Each of the over 
644 local AAAs sets aside funds to provide free legal assistance for 
those older persons who are in the greatest social and economic need. In 
many states, the AAAs contract with the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) 
funded programs described below. They may also set up their own programs 
or contract with private attorneys to provide legal services to older 

 OAA legal services advocates provide representation in court or at 
administrative hearings, community education, and self-help 
publications. The OAA programs offer other types of assistance and 
services as well. For example, an advocate may assist an older person 
with a food stamp appeal and arrange for transportation to a nutrition 
site. The OAA legal services programs do a great deal of outreach to the 
community. Some attorneys spend as much as half of their time speaking 
at senior centers or visiting people in their own homes. 

There are no income guidelines that clients must meet in order to 
qualify for services. However, the legal services provider and the Area 
Agency on Aging may set priorities about the preferred type of 
representation, such as obtaining government benefits, and may not be 
able to provide help in cases the agency considers to be a lower 

Cost: No cost to eligible clients.

Eligibility & Access to Service:  OAA legal services providers handle 
civil (not criminal) matters for persons age 60 or older regardless of 
income. Local offices set priorities for the types of cases they will 
handle. Not all cases can be handled.

Locating Local Agencies:  Agencies providing free legal help to older 
persons can be identified by calling your local Area Agency on Aging 
listed in the government section of the telephone directory. 

A national directory of OAA legal services providers (entitled Law & 
Aging Resource Guide) lists a state-by-state breakdown of the addresses 
and phone numbers of each office and is available from the American Bar 
Association Commission on Legal Problems of the Elderly, 1800 M Street, 
NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20036.  Single state 
profiles are free. A complete copy of all state profiles is $20.

Legal Aid Offices (free help to low-income people of all ages)

There is also a nationwide network of legal aid offices (or legal 
services) that receive federal funds to provide free legal help to low-
income people of all ages. The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is a 
quasi-governmental entity that receives an annual appropriation from the 
U.S. Congress and funds 324 legal aid programs throughout the country. 
LSC legal aid programs are designed to provide free legal services to 
persons with low incomes, including many older persons.

The legal help provided by LSC-funded programs is substantially the same 
as that provided by the OAA-funded programs and, in many cases, is 
provided by the same office. Staff advocates provide representation in 
court or at administrative hearings, community education, legal clinics, 
and self-help publications, as well as helping client groups in the 
community such as tenants groups. Many offices also conduct outreach 
programs to assist persons in nursing homes, mental hospitals, or others 
who cannot easily reach the legal aid office. The legal services offices 
have staff who specialize in issues related to older people, such as 
Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other public benefits.

There are income and asset guidelines that you must meet to be eligible 
for LSC-funded programs. The office can readily explain these 
eligibility requirements to you. As mentioned above, some of these 
offices also receive special Older Americans Act funding, and can 
provide help to people 60 years of age and over, regardless of income or 

Cost: No cost to eligible clients.

Eligibility & Access to Service:  Legal aid offices handle civil (not 
criminal) cases for persons with income below 125% of the federal 
poverty guidelines ($12,300 for a couple in 1994). Local offices set 
priorities and not all cases can be handled. In some cases (such as 
abuse), the income guidelines may be waived.

Locating Local Agencies:  You will find these agencies in your telephone 
book under "legal aid" or "legal services" offices or by calling your 
local bar association. Before making an appointment, call to make sure 
that the services are free. Be aware that some private attorneys have 
opened clinics that use the same type of name but don't provide free 

Also, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association publishes an 
annually updated national directory that lists the addresses and phone 
numbers of all LSC-funded legal services offices, by state and county. 
The guide can be obtained by writing to: NLADA Directory, 1625 K Street, 
NW, Suite 800, Washington, DC 20006, (202) 452-0620. The cost is $30.

Pro Bono or Reduced-Fee Attorney Panels

Most legal aid offices and some bar associations have started special 
pro bono panels (pro bono refers to free legal help that private 
attorneys provide as a public service). In addition, some private 
attorneys are willing to reduce their fees if a client's income is low. 
The panels discussed in this section are the listings of the private 
attorneys willing to offer some free or reduced-fee legal services. The 
panels do not employ the attorneys but simply work to connect the 
attorneys willing to offer services with the clients who need them.  

Cost: Reduced-fee panels provide legal help at a cost less than the fee 
that the private attorney "usually" charges for a case of the same type. 
The exact fee varies based on locale and the individual attorney's fee 
schedule. Attorneys who agree to handle a case pro bono will not charge 
for their services although there may be court costs and other costs 
associated with the case.

Eligibility & Access to Service:  Many local bar associations have lists 
of attorneys who volunteer for either reduced-fee panels or for pro bono 
cases. Some have special panels for elderlaw cases. In many instances, 
the local legal services programs (LSC and OAA) are part of this 
network. The legal services programs identify cases of persons who 
exceed financial guidelines or whose cases they are otherwise unable to 
handle. The cases are then referred to pro bono or reduced-fee panels. 
Since the OAA and LSC legal services programs often must first screen 
the cases for the pro bono or reduced- fee attorney panels, contact with 
the legal aid agency is often a good way to identify a program in your 

Locating Local Sources:  Local legal aid offices and bar associations 
are usually listed in the yellow (under "Lawyers") or white pages of the 
telephone book. 

Legal Hotlines

Some areas offer special legal hotlines for call-in advice. Often this 
telephone advice service is sponsored by bar associations and has 
limited hours or covers limited geographical areas. Sometimes the 
hotline may be offered for a limited time such as on Law Day, May 1.

The federal government's Administration on Aging (AoA) sponsors 
statewide legal hotlines that provide legal advice to all persons age 60 
or older, regardless of income or the nature of their problem. The 
hotlines are staffed by attorneys who give advice, send pamphlets, or 
make referrals to special panels of attorneys or to legal services 

Cost:  Most (including the AoA-funded hotlines) do not charge for the 
advice given. Cases which require additional work are referred to 
private attorneys or legal services programs (individual hotline 
policies will vary).

Eligibility & Access to Service:  Open to all persons age 60 or older.  
The services exist only in limited areas of the country. See Appendix 2 
for a listing of the statewide legal hotlines as of the date this guide 
was published. Plans are underway to expand to other states.

Locating Local Agencies:  See the listing in Appendix 2 or call your 
local bar association or Area Agency on Aging.
Excerpted from An Older Person's Guide to Finding Legal Help
from Legal Counsel for the Elderly
601 E Street, NW   Washington, DC  20049
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