Norristown, PA – As most courts, county agencies and law offices remain closed for non-emergency matters, consumer and employment complaints relating to the COVID-19 pandemic continue to surge. For thousands of pent-up residents and employers facing legal concerns for the first time, each day brings new questions and anxieties about eviction, labor and employment, estate planning, and family placement; perhaps the most frequent is, “Where to begin?” Two options to consider are Legal Aid of Southeastern PA (LASP) and the Montgomery Bar Association. Both organizations are fully staffed and providing services remotely at close-to-normal levels at this time.
Businesses seeking legal counsel should start with Montgomery Bar Association’s (MBA’s) Lawyer Referral Service (LRS). MBA’s LRS will provide a free, qualified referral to an attorney who can offer advice on business or employment matters, ranging from simple to complex. All qualifying attorneys who participate in the Bar’s LRS program agree to charge a deeply discounted rate of no more than $40 for initial consultations of up to 30 minutes, and many are equipped to do so remotely at this time. Legal Aid does not provide services for businesses.
For residents seeking legal advice or representation, deciding which of the two organizations to contact will depend on the circumstances and your financial means.
If you cannot afford to hire an attorney and you are a senior, a victim of domestic violence, or your household income is at or below 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, you may want to start by contacting Legal Aid of Southeastern PA. LASP, a nonprofit since 2001, serves Montgomery, Bucks, Chester and Delaware counties. Funders include Legal Services Corp. at the federal level, the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network (PLAN) and Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) at the state level, along with additional public and private grants and donations. LASP provides free legal advice and representation in civil matters to eligible clients. Some of the types of cases LASP handles include domestic violence and protection from abuse; elder law; bankruptcy, debt relief and consumer law; child custody and dependency issues; expungement and record-sealing; public benefits such as SSI, SSDI, unemployment compensation, TANF (cash assistance), SNAP (food stamps), Medical Assistance/Medicaid; mortgage foreclosure, landlord/tenant, public and subsidized housing problems; and utility problems. If you require assistance with matters they do not handle, LASP will refer you to other potential resources. For example, LASP does not handle criminal cases, personal injury lawsuits, or traffic court matters. The first step should be to see if you qualify, and if your particular matter qualifies. You can find that out by visiting their website, LASP.org, and completing their online intake application, or by calling the Helpline at 877-429-5994 Monday through Friday, from 9 am to 1 pm.
If you don’t qualify financially for free legal representation through LASP, but your household income is within 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, you may still be eligible for Montgomery Bar Association’s Modest Means Legal Access Program (MMLAP). You can see if you qualify by asking a representative at LASP or by calling or contacting the Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service at 610-994-3656 (LRS@montgomerybar.org) during regular business hours (9:00 am to 4:00 pm M-F). Attorneys who participate in the MMLAP are private attorneys who are members of the Montgomery Bar Association and agree to charge no fee for an initial 30-minute consultation, and no more than $75/ hour thereafter.
Both Montgomery Bar Association’s LRS and MMLAP serve thousands of area residents and businesses each year by connecting them, free of charge, to a local attorney who is vetted and qualified to offer advice on their important legal matters. If your matter does not require an attorney, you may be referred to a local agency or legal service organization for assistance. Worth noting is that some of these organizations may be closed or operating remotely at limited service levels at this time. By calling the Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service at 610-994-3656 during regular business hours (9:00 am to 4:00 pm M-F), residents and businesses will receive a free referral to a qualifying and participating member attorney, or information on available resources, based on your expressed matter at hand, geographic preference, and other criteria. Should matters specifically call for the professional assistance of an attorney, a free online referral may be obtained at any time (24/7/365) by visiting RealLawyers.org and completing the brief 5-step request form. Please note that despite office closures; during regular business hours LRS representatives, as well as many participating attorneys, are equipped to serve you remotely.
For residents who do not qualify for MMLAP, but wish to be referred to a local lawyer who can help, Montgomery Bar Association’s LRS is an excellent resource. What’s unique about Montgomery Bar Association’s LRS for bothresidents and employers is that you will never pay more than $40 for an initial 30-minute consultation or strategy session with a local lawyer, and it’s the only vetted, not-for-profit service of its kind. During your initial 30-minute consultation, you will have an opportunity to share and discuss the details of your matter, as well as attorney fees and related costs should you then chose to retain or hire that attorney. Payment of this fee is typically expected by the attorney during the initial consultation; however, not all types of cases require a consultation fee, and not all attorneys will charge a consultation fee, so you should discuss this when scheduling your initial consultation. Aside from the deeply discounted 30-minute consultation, the LRS program is a regular fee referral program.
According to Montgomery Bar Association Executive Director Nancy Paul, “The public benefits greatly from these programs, especially in times like these. There are no easy answers these days, but providing access to our members for direction about common or even complex legal questions improves access to justice for everyone in Montgomery County.”
Shawn Boehringer, LASP Executive Director, noted, “During this public health crisis, domestic violence will not stop and will likely spike as stress and anxiety rise. There will be landlords who take self-help measures against tenants, parents who do not return children after visitation periods end, and hourly employees at the many businesses affected by closures who will face loss of income and employment and challenges paying for food, rent, and other necessities. They will need assistance to navigate unemployment compensation and other social safety net programs, which are seeing significant changes. LASP continues to assist clients with these and other emergent concerns.”