Service helps locals find lawyers |

Service helps locals find lawyers

Until recently, most Nevada County residents needing to represent themselves in civil court had only two options: Study up on the case in the county’s law library and represent themselves or hire an attorney.

Not anymore.

The Lawyer Referral Service of Nevada County has recently reopened after shutting down in 2003 due to a lack of grant money.

The state court-run program charges a small fee to people wanting an attorney in a specialized area of law and refers them to an attorney. The attorney provides a consultation and may agree to represent the client. If the attorney obtains payment or settlement funds later, he or she sends a percentage of those fees back to the program.

“I see 500 to 600 people a month with self-help needs … because they can’t afford legal representation,” said Kent VanDerSchuit, who runs the Public Law Center at the Nevada County Courthouse. “But a significant amount of them need more than just self-help.”

So far, about 20 attorneys have signed up to take part in the program. Their specialties include family law, probate law, landlord and tenant disputes, mediation, personal injury and real estate. To take part, attorneys have to carry malpractice insurance and pay a $50 sign-up fee.

For now, only Nevada and Placer counties will be served, but VanDerSchuit said the program will expand into other foothill communities in the future.

There have been six referrals since the program reopened in early January.

Attorney Craig Diamond, who has signed up for the referral service, said that while defendants in criminal courts have access to such things as public defenders for minimal costs, the same is not the case in civil cases.

“We make legal services more accessible to the community,” he said. “It’s important people have access to the legal system.”

Diamond, who has practiced law in Nevada County for more than 20 years, said the program also helps him.

“It also gets me connected to the community,” he said.

The referral service is operating out of the Area 4 Agency on Aging HelpLine Office on Sutton Way. HelpLine is itself a referral agency for people wanting to get connected to any local program.

“It’s like a 411 for all of the county’s services,” VanDerSchuit said.

Cheryl Cooper, one of the very first residents to benefit from the referral service, said it was easier for her to pay a small fee and have a lawyer chosen for her than searching for an attorney herself.

“Unless you are familiar with their specialties, you just don’t know,” she said.

“This organization saves a lot of time for someone like me. To have all the research done for you and even get a consultation, that’s a good deal.”

To be referred to a local attorney, call 272-5962.

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