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Low Cost Legal Services

“You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.”

We’ve all heard the Miranda warnings read to defendants on TV shows and in movies, but the legal right to counsel only applies in criminal matters. Pro bono attorneys are usually quite willing to take on defense cases, but may be less likely to provide free business counseling or civil court help. What happens when you’re a small business or artist who gets served with a copyright infringement suit or who needs help incorporating?

There are a number of organizations that provide legal referrals for civil cases, and a few groups that help artists and small business specifically. These tend to fall into the category of “low bono” services, meaning they require a small fee to cover administrative costs, but nothing like their normal billing rate.

In addition, often trade associations will have legal services, or handbooks that provide information on setting up small businesses or the like. The Entertainment Software Association, for instance, maintains a cadre of attorneys who handle the big lawsuits involving constitutional matters.

In Washington state, we are lucky enough to have the Washington Lawyers for the Arts, a group which puts on monthly seminars on art law topics, and which operates a legal clinic twice a month where artists can speak with an attorney for 30 minutes for a $20 donation to the group. As a full disclosure, I took part in the clinic as a student, currently help with set-up for the clinic, and sit on the planning committee for the seminars, so I’m a bit invested in the group, and fully support their works.

Local law schools will often have small business clinics which can help with incorporation or tax advice, and bar associations also may maintain a list of attorneys who are interested in helping out. Areas with a bigger concentration of technology developers will also attract attorneys interested in those fields, so looking online for specialized services could also be quite beneficial.

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Posted in Tuesday: Potpourri.