These days, there are a lot of decent legal resources online, and there are a lot of legal actions that can be taken by people who aren't lawyers. Verbeck Law isn't one of the more traditional law firms that will tell you that you need a lawyer for everything; you don't. Having a lawyer do your case for you is the easiest option, true, and the safest, but at the same time we realize that it can be pretty expensive. This post is an attempt to help you decide what kind of case you may be able to handle, or at least get started, and when you should definitely talk to a lawyer.
Common Cases That You Need A Lawyer For
1. Evictions, in any town or county with rent control. Many landlords aren't landlords full-time, and get the idea that they can probably handle an eviction alright without using a lawyer. This can be true in places like Martinez, which as of the date of this writing doesn't have rent control or many tenant protections. It's not true of Richmond, which just passed rent control, and it's definitely, definitely not true of high-volume places like Berkeley, Oakland, or San Francisco. The risk is not so much that you'll miss a rule and get your eviction case dismissed; the concern is that you'll get sued by the tenant after your case gets dismissed. There are a lot of very nice houses in Marin that were purchased using settlements from landlords who assumed they could handle something like an Owner Move-In by themselves.
2. Divorces with Children. California has fairly liberal divorce laws, and sometimes a divorce between two people with no major assets can be handled by the parties involved. In our experience, a divorce with kids will generally get complicated very quickly, and paying a lawyer to help out early on is a lot cheaper than paying a lawyer to try to fix things once a case has gone bad.
3. Hybrid cases. Lawyers think of law in terms of the broad categories. Divorce is family law, evictions are landlord/tenant, a tax-planning trust is part of trusts and estates. Hybrid cases draw from more than one type of law. Common examples are divorces with restraining orders, evictions based on illegal activity, or family fights over inherited assets. These cases should be brought to a firm that handles hybrid law, like Verbeck Law, and it's definitely a bad idea to try to handle them yourself. Often, your lawyer will have to know several fields of law and be familiar with more than one physical courthouse to handle a case like this.
Cases You Can Start Yourself
1. Demands for money less than $10,000. In California, claims for damages under $10k are heard in small claims, and while we can certainly help you win a small claims case, we can't represent you in that court. If you're good at making yourself understood in writing, and if you can tell your story in a calm and coherent manner, you may not need any help to win a small claims case.
2. Basic Leases. If someone is staying in your home or other property, you need a lease. Having a lawyer draft one just for your circumstance is the safest, but honestly, the AIA leases are pretty good, and the California Association of Realtors leases are fine too. Note that you should only use these for a simple tenancy. If the tenant is going to be running a home business, for example, talk to a lawyer.
3. Basic start-up arrangement. If you and a friend have an idea for a product or app or similar, you can handle some of the initial setup yourself, as long as you write it down. If you're providing funding and your friend is doing the programming, write that down and sign it. It doesn't need to be fancy, but it does need to specify who does what. This is because, if you have a business together and don't make an agreement to the contrary, you're partners, which is about as strong a relationship as a civil union.
We hope this is helpful in considering whether to check in with an attorney on your case. Please bear in mind that we do free consultations, and are always happy to talk about how we can provide affordable help.