Depending on how serious the issue is and how complex the law might be, you might feel you need some legal input (even if you can’t afford it). A first port of call should be your local Citizens Advice Bureau, advice agency or law centre. CABs offer free legal advice on death and consumer issues, benefits, housing, employment and immigration. Advisers can help by, for example, filling out forms, writing letters and negotiate with creditors well. Advisers are largely volunteers although there are some specialist solicitors. They can also point you in the direction of a solicitor. There are some 56 law centres (20 are in London) providing free and independent legal advice to people who live in their catchment areas. They specialise in the law relating to welfare rights, immigration and nationality housing and homelessness, employment rights and sex and race discrimination. Their contact details can be found in the phone book or by visiting www.adviceguide.org.uk or from Community Legal Advice at www.communitylegaladvice.org.uk.
You might be eligible for legal aid. See Are you eligible for legal aid? Also check your motor and household insurance policies for legal expenses cover. Many law firms offer a free first half hour of advice. Trade unions, and other membership organisations increasingly offer legal help including telephone help-lines.
Law firms generally do not tailor their services towards litigants in person. An exception is the Law Shop in Bristol. It advises people on how best to handle straightforward legal matters themselves. ‘If there is something people can do simply themselves with minimum expense, then I feel I have a professional duty to offer a service rather than one that is more expensive,’ says Peter Brown. DIY litigants pay £7 per five-minute unit of advice. Most firms insist on being paid an hourly rate (£250 for a reasonably experienced solicitor) however increasingly they offer fixed fees.
Jon is editor of the Justice Gap. He is a freelance journalist. Jon's books include The First Miscarriage of Justice (Waterside Press, 2014), The Justice Gap (LAG, 2009) and People Power (Daily Telegraph/LawPack, 2008). Jon is a journalism lecturer at Winchester University and a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln. He is twice winner of the Bar Council's journalism award (2015 and 2005) and is shortlisted for this year's Criminal Justice Alliance's journalism award