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Are there online law resources I can use instead of hiring a lawyer? Ask the lawyer

Q: A bunch of us have some general legal questions. Before we spring for a lawyer, which may cost a pretty penny, are there links online that provide helpful guidance on basic legal topics?

J.T., Hawthorne

Ron Sokol

A: There is a volume of online links about legal issues. It takes poking around and typing in key words. But if you proceed based on any of these links, you clearly are deemed to do so with the understanding that the information may not be a prudent substitute for consultation with a lawyer, let alone retaining a lawyer.

Below is a list of some online links that seek to provide guidance to the public:

Basic information from California courts on a multitude of topics, including child support, criminal law, debt collection, eviction and housing, and expunging your record: courts.ca.gov/selfhelp.htm.
Guidance if you are seeking to pursue a petition against harassment: selfhelp.courts.ca.gov/CH-restraining-order.
Addresses real estate boundary issues: levinelawyer.com/blog/understanding-californias-property-line-and-fence-laws.
Dealing with an encroaching tree: eskridgelaw.net/neighbors-trees-encroaching-on-your-property-what-you-should-know-about-california-tree-law.
Basics on medical malpractice law in California: medicalmalpracticehelp.com/lawyer/state-laws/california.
Families and Children: courts.ca.gov/selfhelp-family.htm.
Employment claims process: calaborlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/DFEH-159-DFEH-Complaint-Process.pdf.
A wide array of consumer complaints through California state agencies: dca.ca.gov/consumers/complaints/index.shtml.

Q: I plan to handle my own divorce. A lawyer friend told me: “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.” What is such a big problem about doing it myself?

G.N., Lakewood

A: Research indicates the quote you refer to is a proverb that first began showing up in the early 19th century. The expression is a warning, a caution if you will, that handling things yourself may make sense in some instances, but can be very risky in a legal matter.

What if you are a witness in the case, for example? Are you going to question yourself? If the case is by you, or against you, are you able to proceed at all objectively? Can you take reasonable steps, or will you be fueled more by emotion that derails common sense?

Tasks such as cleaning your car, fixing a hole in the wall, ironing pants, cooking a meal, etc., do not come with much, if any, risk to speak of. The legal process, on the other hand, can be very challenging, particularly for a lay person. I ask: Can you sell your own home?  Well, yes, but will you be sure to cross each “T” and dot every “I?”  Wouldn’t it be less stressful to have someone with real expertise do it instead? In my view, the same applies to a divorce case. Representing yourself in a legal matter may not quite be akin to performing surgery on yourself, but it sure ain’t easy (and will come with risks).

Ron Sokol has been a practicing attorney for over 40 years, and has also served many times as a judge pro tem, mediator, and arbitrator. It is important to keep in mind that this column presents a summary of the law, and is not to be treated or considered legal advice, let alone a substitute for actual consultation with a qualified professional.

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