Finding good legal advice and planning ahead now may help prevent difficulties later. Remember that you are the decision-maker, and the more information you have about the law and your case, the better prepared you will be to conduct or oversee the legal work you need. As is true when purchasing any product or service, it is important to be a smart consumer. Here are questions to consider:
Do I need an Attorney?
Ask yourself whether you have a situation requiring an attorney’s involvement. For example, a Living Will is available from many sources and can be prepared on your own. The preparation of a trust or a guardianship proceeding, however, would almost certainly require the assistance of an attorney. Consider the following:
- Do I need someone with expertise in the area of elder law to review my situation?
- Is the matter a complex issue or one that’s likely to go to court?
- Is my issue due to a conflict with another individual that needs an objective third party?
- Are there any non-attorney legal resources available to assist me?
- Is a large amount of money, property, or time involved?
How do I get legal help?
The Colorado Bar Association can let you know if legal representation would be useful and provide a list of attorneys that fits your needs. 303-860-1115; www.cobar.org. They also give information about free and low-cost legal services including:
Denver Bar Association Legal Clinics: Pro se (do-it-yourself) clinics offered in the community on the topics of bankruptcy, divorce, small claims, and collections. They do not give legal advice or help fill out forms; they do explain legal processes. www.denbar.org/Public/Legal-Clinics.
Court Self-Help Centers: Staff at Court Self-Help Centers can assist with locating and filling out forms, understanding court procedures, finding applicable statutes and giving referrals to community resources. A list of Court Self-Help Centers is also available at: www.courts.state.co.us/Self_Help/center.cfm.
Colorado Legal Services – 303-837-1321
Colorado Legal Services is a statewide client intake system offering people with low-incomes free legal assistance with civil (non-criminal) problems. Services are available in English and Spanish. Calls are received weekdays from 8:30am-4pm. After an intake interview, staff will answer your questions, send you documents addressing your concerns and, in some cases, refer you to a legal services provider in your area.
Aging & Disability Resources – 303-480-6700 – www.drcog.networkofcare.org
You can also call the Aging & Disability Resources’ helpline in the Denver metro area to learn more about your options for legal representation and dispute resolution, especially if your issue may be more involved with medical or social services. They can also tell you about Senior Law Day events in your area.
Hiring an Attorney
1. Once you have a list of attorneys who specialize in your area of need, check with the Colorado Supreme Court – Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel to verify an attorney is licensed and in good standing in the state of Colorado.
Attorney Search & Disciplinary History: www.coloradosupremecourt.com/Search/AttSearch.asp – use the navigation tabs at the top of the page for additional information
2. Make exploratory phone calls to help you choose the most qualified attorney to help your situation. Don’t feel embarrassed about asking questions and selecting only the best candidate for you.
Your preliminary questions should include:
- How long has the attorney been in practice?
- Will the attorney provide a free consultation on this matter? If there is a fee, how much is it?
- How much of his/her practice is devoted to your type of legal situation?
- Does the attorney represent any special-interest groups, such as nursing homes?
- What type of fee arrangement does the attorney require? Are fees negotiable?
- What type of information should you bring with you to the initial consultation?
- How does the attorney handle client complaints?
To File a Complaint about an Attorney: Call the Office of Attorney Regulation at 877-888-1370 or file a complaint online: www.coloradosupremecourt.com/Complaints/File_ComplaintAgainstAtty.asp
Colorado Affordable Legal Services (303-996-0010; www.coloradoaffordablelegal.com) provides legal representation in evictions and legal clinics on issues surrounding landlord/tenant rights.
Colorado Housing Connects (1-844-926-6632; www.coloradohousingconnects.org) offers education about landlord / tenant laws, reverse mortgages and housing options in the Denver metro area.
Denver Metro Fair Housing Center (720-279-4291; www.dmfhc.org) provides education, advocacy and enforcement of the Fair Housing Act to prevent housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, familial status and disability. Colorado state law also protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation, creed, ancestry and marital status.
Disability Law Colorado (800-288-1376 or 303-722-0300; www.disabilitylawco.org) provides free legal information to people with disabilities and may be able to provide advocacy and legal representation for some cases. The State Long-term Care Ombudsman is also housed in this office and handles concerns about licensed skilled nursing facilities and assisted livings.
Justice & Mercy Legal Aid Center (JAMLAC) (303-839-1008; www.jamlac.org; email: JAMLAC@milehighmin.org) is a non-profit law firm and legal branch of Mile High Ministries which provides services and advocacy to those facing oppression and poverty throughout the Denver metro area and beyond.
Mean Street Ministries (303-232-2500; www.meanstreetministry.org/home) provides free legal consultations for people experiencing homelessness. Clinics are held the second Friday of the month at 1pm. Stop by the office at 1380 Ammons Street, Lakewood, CO 80214 before Friday; walk-ins are not guaranteed service.
National Foundation for Credit Counseling (1-800-388-2227; www.nfcc.org) connects you to financial education and credit counseling services. Specialists assist in considering alternatives to bankruptcy, developing a manageable budget, financial education and also offer housing- counseling solutions. There is a small fee.
The State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) answers questions about Medicare fraud and abuse. Call 1-888-696-7213.
Alternatives to Hiring an Attorney
Many legal problems can be resolved through alternatives before you involve the courts including arbitration, mediation, consumer protection and small claims court. These alternatives are typically fee-for-service.
The Colorado Senior Law Handbook is an excellent resource for in-depth explanations of these options: www.cobar.org/seniorlawhandbook
Arbitration is when you meet before a judge without a jury but in the presence of one or more arbitrators. In elder law, arbitration may be involved if required by documents found in trusts.
Mediation is when you have a neutral person who helps you reach a settlement of your dispute outside of the court system. Mediation is voluntary and the information you share stays confidential. If mediation does not resolve your dispute and you go to court, the judge and jury will not know what is said during your mediation sessions.
Consumer protection deals with your rights as a consumer and ranges from identity theft protection to telemarketing scams to making sure you get the services you’ve paid for. The Attorney General’s Office has a Consumer Services Resource Center that provides consumer protection guidance regarding laws on scams, fraud, credit, collection agencies, contracts, mail order purchases and automobile repair and purchase. They also investigate and prosecute these cases to protect you as the consumer.
Colorado Attorney General’s Office – 720-508-6000 – www.coag.gov
In some counties, you can call your district attorney’s office to speak with a consumer fraud specialist:
- 1st Judicial District Attorney’s Office – Jefferson & Gilpin Counties: 303-271-6970
- 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office – Denver County: 720-913-9179
- 17th Judicial District Attorney’s Office – Adams & Broomfield Counties: 303-659-7720
- 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office – Arapahoe & Douglas Counties: 720-874-8547
- For consumer protection issues in Clear Creek County, call the Colorado Attorney General’s Office: 720-508-6000.
Small Claims Court may be appropriate if you have a monetary claim for damages up to $7,500. These courts are more informal and involve less paperwork than regular courts. Filing costs are lower and the system is often faster than the other courts. If you file in small claims court, you should be prepared to act as your own legal advocate, gather the needed evidence, research the law and present your story.
Quick tip: Check with the clerk in the Small Claims Court or Court Self-Help Centers for more information on what may be necessary to file and prepare for your case. Also, ask if there is a time limit on when you must file suit.
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This guide is brought to you by the Denver Coordinated Workgroup. The Denver Coordinated Workgroup is made up of experts from the field of aging who are committed to creating and sharing information in order to guide people to the services they need to thrive as they grow older. Western Care Partners is proud to serve with this group of talented professionals.