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Ask HN: Are there any online lawyer services?
77 points by throwaway4353 24 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 55 comments
Throwaway account for obvious reasons. I will not go into details, but I am personally facing some legal charges in Santa Clara county. I am not staying in the U.S. but I need to find a lawyer to represent me there. Do you have any lawyer firm you could recommend?

Extra points if they provide an "online" service where the case can be discussed electronically, as phone calls are a hassle due to the time zone differences. And preferably be able to pay using regular credit card, I guess hourly for initial consultation.

Typically "charges" means that it's a criminal offense, and if so, you absolutely should not go with an online service. Get the best lawyer you can afford, and deal with the inconvenience of phone calls. Especially if you're facing jail time, do you really want to run the risk of being inadequately represented?

If it's a civil suit, you should still should weigh whether the inconvenience of phone calls is worth risking a judgment against you.

As for credit cards, some (perhaps most) attorneys accept credit cards, and my assumption is that nearly every online service will accept them.

Update: You commented elsewhere that it's a traffic offense. Assuming that you're not facing jail time, this might be a case where you can do most of your communication with a lawyer by email and still feel reasonably assured that you're being adequately represented. But you may still need to make an initial phone call. Or rather, being willing to make an initial phone call will give you more (and potentially better) options.

Thanks for the extensive reply and recommendations! Yea, I guess I was hoping I could skip the step of calling a bunch of lawyer firms to find someone good.

I'm probably not facing jail time, but probably weekend work program for 6 days or so. I'm hoping to find a lawyer to do as much as possible in place in U.S. so I can just travel there and pay any fines and do my sentence.

The sibling thread said traffic/criminal, which typically means one of two things... reckless driving (excessive speed or other dangerous driving) OR DUI/drunk-driving.

Reckless can often be pled down to a non-criminal, or if not, is usually a punishment as you describe.

DUI is quite a bit more serious.

Either way, typically a legal practice that handles one will handle the other. And in both cases, you will need legal counsel, as failure to do so can result in jail time.

If you're living abroad with no intention of returning to the US, it's highly unlikely you're going to get weekend work. A fine perhaps, sure.

Can confirm. Accidentally broke the law while visiting, no conviction.

Not sure if it's civil or criminal, but if it's criminal, I'd recommend:


He hasn't personally represented me (thankfully the worst crime I've committed is speeding), but he's a close friend and a great defense attorney.

Thanks a lot! Yes I should've been a little more specific, it is criminal/traffic.

OK - at this point, for traffic cases he only does DUIs. If that's your situation, reach out to him.

Hey, I am the CEO of http://CaseGuide.org which uses court data to find the previous outcomes of cases and best attorneys. We don't accept any money from attorneys, only show their factual performance on cases. Unfortunately we only operate in Florida, USA for now but here some advice for finding a criminal traffic lawyer based on looking at hundreds of attorney records.

As far as I know there is not another service like ours who will show you actual outcomes on how attorneys perform. I'm also not aware of an attorney service per se but most attorneys use email and most work long hours. Many accept credit cards.

If I was going to find an attorney where I don't know anyone I would look at it in this order:

1)Start with superlawyers and get all the names for the following searches: Driving Under The Influence (DUI) in CityName.

2) Look up each of those attorneys on AVVO and pick one based on reviews or whatever you want. Avvo rating is stupid.

Generally, the top rated DUI people will also do other criminal traffic stuff.

The problem with this is Avvo and Superlawyers are both funded by attorneys. In our main area, for example, the best 3 DUI attorneys by case outcomes show up like this on SuperLawyers: #1 isnt on the list at all, #2 is about halfway down the list of 27 people, has no prominence on the site despite the fact that DUI case law in that state was basically all this one guy, and #3 is below #2 toward the bottom.

#2 doesn't have an Avvo rating at all.

That said, many of the attorneys on there are still "pretty good" and that's likely all you need, even if you can't get the best ones.

To start, you can ask on reddit.com/r/legaladvice. They're very helpful and can let you know what to expect. It's not a substitute for an attorney but it's a good way to get more informed.

Is posting on a public forum to request legal advice from people with no protection whatsoever really considered a good idea?

I suspect that the fact there's a twitter account[1] collecting the weird and wonderful posts from there doesn't weigh in it's favour.

[1] https://twitter.com/legaladvice_txt

If you have a little discernment you can probably filter out bad advice. Personally I have often gotten better advice about legal or health issues from online forums than I have received from professionals like lawyers and doctors. At a minimum these responses are a cheap way to learn about things you should be looking into so you are better prepared for talking to a professional person.

If you talk to _your_ lawyer about your issue the lawyer can't go and tell anyone else, nor can that discussion be raised as part of a legal process against you. Not the case if you post it to a public forum.

Thank you, I didn't know about that subreddit! I will probably try to post there.

If you have a criminal case, you need to talk to a local lawyer, in person. An online lawyer will simply not suffice.

If you need help finding a lawyer, contact your local bar association and they can refer you. You can also contact your local criminal defense bar association, though not all of them have websites.

EDIT: Just realized that by "not staying in the US" you actually meant you were physically not in the US anymore. This doesn't change my recommendation to ask the Santa Clara Bar Association for a referral to a local Santa Clara criminal defense or traffic/DUI lawyer. You'll just be corresponding with your lawyer mostly by phone/email.

Announcing your plan to leave the country is going to get you arrested and held without bail. Hire a real world criminal defense attorney now and hope the court will let you trade your passport for an ankle monitor.

Maybe he's not resident in the US (nor a US citizen) and just returned home?

If he’s a foreign national who never wants to visit the US again for any reason, and can expect his country not to extradite him for whatever the charge is, then it is a reasonable strategy.

Yes I do not expect to be extradited, and I am not in U.S. anymore (since several years). However, being "wanted" in the U.S. can have negative impact on job applications to American (and some non-American) companies even in other countries, and of course - travelling to the U.S. for vacation trips is difficult.

I understand now. Where you wrote “I am not staying in the U.S.” I took that to mean that you were leaving the US, but you meant that you are currently not living in the US. I think your plan is exactly right, find good representation before traveling to the US. It would be best to deal with this problem in a planned out way rather than simply arriving in the country and being arrested somewhere.

Countries usually don't extradite their own citizens. That is one. Second, it seems to have been a traffic related issue. Do people get extradited for traffic related offences?

Lastly, I didn't say he didn't have to get good representation. I totally would if I was in his shoes. Don't skimp on a good lawyer.

Nobody gets extradited over non-felony charges.

I'm working on a startup that does this. Right now, we are in the attorney network recruitment stage. But if you contact me, I may be able to mechanical turk a connection for you. Also, I would love to just visit with you about your needs from the client perspective to validate our demand thesis. I'm an attorney so we could do the customer interview under privilege, or if you don't share case details we can do it with the tech team too.


Hi Nathan,

Actually, I had been working off and on creating a platform that allows lawyers to file, respond to court documents, etc. The goal was to eliminate the need to show up to court and have opposing council ask for a continuance because they only received the documents "the day before" and hadn't had time to review them. There were other aspects to it. I haven't worked on it in years, but perhaps we could chat sometime if this sounds interesting to you.

If your platform is as described, it has no chance of succeeding. If attorneys have only received the documents the day before a court appearance, changing that to online delivery doesn't address the fundamental problem that the opposing counsel hasn't had sufficient time to review the document dump.

Judges really, really hate it when lawyers do that to opposing counsel, to the point where it is no longer uncommon for them to sanction lawyers for data dumping at the last minute in addition to granting a continuance so that the other side can properly review and respond.

And so that is the point. If documents are not exchanged fairly a continuance can be issued without ever getting to court first and wasting the systems time.

If not saying the idea was perfect. I talked to 30 lawyers in different parts of the world to help hash out the idea. Mixed thoughts from them. I think I still have all the notes.

My point here was to Share an idea because I’m not doing this project anymore (way back early 2007) and maybe someone else can execute better etc

And so that is the point. If documents are not exchanged fairly a continuance can be issued without ever getting to court first and wasting the systems time.

Right, and they can already do that without going to court, by filing (or for more modern courts, emailing) a request for continuance to the judge's clerk. This has been a thing for literally decades, which is probably why you got mixed thoughts from the lawyers you talked to.

There are plenty of low-hanging fruit in the legal tech market to go after. This isn't one of them.

Right, but this happens automatically based upon time.

The mixed reactions were

1. There isn’t a chance to argue with the judge in an automated system. Maybe extenuating circumstances need to be talked about and this step is cut out by a computer deciding to notify the judge that a continuance should be given due to time.

2. It’s another system to be paid attention to when lawyers desks usually have cases on paper, in folders, in a briefcase. It’s hard to break tradition.

Ah so the fundamental misunderstanding is that you did not understand how the process works and so you proposed a platform that didn't work with existing processes, and so was rejected by essentially everyone you talked to.

Continuances are discretionary. Judges are already quite good about handling extenuating circumstances on their own. AIs can barely understand simple human speech; they are nowhere close to notifying judges about whether continuances are appropriate.

And I'm not sure why you keep pushing this--the problem you've addressed is not a major problem in our court system (or even a minor problem) and the solution isn't worth more investment of time/effort than as an extremely minor feature in a court docketing/filing system.

As I clearly stated. I shelved that project. My original post was to offer the work I had done to someone else versus it sitting on a shelf :-).

As a criminal lawyer, you reply like a lawyer. I’ve lost interest in your retorts so I’ll move on.

If I were you, I'd invest a few hundred bucks in a well-made landing page w/e-mail subscription form.

Thank you, this sounds interesting, I'll probably reach out to you in the next few days!

Without knowing more details of the charged offenses, it’s impossible to recommend an appropriate firm. They are often very specialized, and you want to find someone who has relevant experience/success with the specific type of charge (and venue — presumably Santa Clara County).

As for handling things electronically, any firm will do this. And they will let you pay by credit card. The initial consult should be free.

Source: I’m a former corporate lawyer.

The Recode Decode podcast recently featured an online divorce service: https://www.recode.net/podcasts/2019/1/26/18198055/laura-was...

Contact a member of this organization: https://www.nacdl.org/ who practices in the area (geographic and subject) of your pending charges. Almost all have websites that will accept messages and most will communicate by email and take credit cards. Find one you are comfortable with.

However there is one wrinkle - be aware that lawyers are inundated with emails from overseas/out-of-the-country potential "clients" looking to hire them that are, in fact, fake check/wire transfer scams, so any mention of being outside the country and wanting to hire the lawyer will most likely lead to your emails being ignored/spam canned. You will need to be ready to provide some specific information that can be verified such as the case number/pending court, and possibly be willing to start off with a telephone call.

I would guess you would need to e-mail some law firms and ask if they would be willing to do things by e-mail or some other form of asynchronous text communication. I wonder if common law firms know what GPG is. And I wonder what online platform is good for such communication, where privacy is very important...

All large law firms have general knowledge about it. There's an active market targeting lawyers with "secure communication solutions."

But clients hate secure messaging, unless they're in a job that pays them to care about security. I've had clients voluntarily facebook, SMS, or email. I've had one client in about twenty years send me an encrypted email.

Perhaps something like LegalZoom: https://www.legalzoom.com/

Thanks, will check it out.

I’ve used UpCounsel for business documents and filings. They’re a pay-as-you-go service, and might have what you’re looking for.



Edit: Not a law firm but can get your questions answered and point you in the right direction.

Thank you! I hadn't come across this site before, I'll give it a shot!

I've come across a number of companies in the UK offering a no-hassle mostly online divorce services

Might be because no contest divorces are pretty simple and its really just a paperwork management exercise.

I don't know about the US, but I suspect purely online legal services in the UK might be tricky due to anti-money laundering requirements?

My (civil) attorneys conduct most business over e-mail once the initial contact is made in real time. I imagine you can do the same with a criminal attorney.

I tried Priori as an attorney service provider. After their "screening interview" which asked a bunch of lead gen questions, they set out contacting a bunch of my clients to poach them from me, even though I was one of their "members." Thank goodness my clients tend to be pretty loyal and they alerted me to the unsolicited contact. Shady stuff though.

Priori seems to be focusing on corporate customers, but I'm mainly looking for personal. Thanks anyway, it might come in handy in the future.

My experience with using online legal services (including some recommended here) for simple matters was that you're hiring the bottom of the barrel / oversubscribed intern time.

Being a lawyer seems kind of like being a doctor -- you can easily solicit more work than you can do, if you're good at your job.

Consequently, if you're good, why would you accept internet clients? And all the problems they entail. Quantity is not a problem you have.

It's annoying, but follow the adage. Pick up a phone and ask family / friends / local lawyers / etc who they would recommend. Any lawyer should be able to handle communication over the internet for most of the casework.

Makes sense. Unfortunately I don't have family nor close friends in the U.S. Having been on HN for 8-9 years I figured it's the closest friends I have in U.S. :)

I rather not consult local lawyers (in my current country) unfortunately, as I am not sure of the extent of professional secrecy provided.

I meant local as in the local jurisdiction you'll be tried in.

For example, most state bars have a referral service that will connect you with a lawyer. Similarly, there are other local professional orgs that will offer referrals.

E.g. http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Public/Need-Legal-Help/Lawyer-Refer...

Some quick intro screening / get to know you conversation should probably be sufficient for finding someone quality who can help you.

Why is this, do you think? Is it generational based on the average demographics of the service providers? Is it a result of poor tooling for initiating and maintaining privileged relationships virtually?

As you noted, there's no reason the casework can't happen remotely, and appearances can usually be scheduled adequately to allow for client travel. In criminal of course, the judge and prosecutor is going to want Defendant to appear in person except for misdemeanor charges.

I think it's the fundamentally non-scalable nature of the work. You see it in other professions, e.g. venture capital and estate management.

If it's possible to get more work than you have time to perform, then you can be selective about what work you take. Consequently, referrals from a customer you've previously done business with are less risky / hassle than internet strangers.

The difference between me writing code for 1 person or 1,000,000 people are relatively negligible. The difference between a lawyer working 1 criminal case and 1,000,000 is much larger. Work product doesn't scale as evenly.

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