How ac­ces­si­ble is

CityPress - - Business -

It may sound like some­thing out of a sci­ence fic­tion novel, but a Bri­tish man named Joshua Brow­der, who is study­ing at Stan­ford Univer­sity in the UK, has de­vel­oped a pro­gramme called DoNotPay – the world’s first ro­bot lawyer – which gives free le­gal ad­vice to refugees.

It’s ba­si­cally a chat­bot, which is a com­puter pro­gramme that en­gages with the client through texts or vo­cal com­mands, and uses Face­book Mes­sen­ger to gather in­for­ma­tion about a case be­fore dish­ing out ad­vice and le­gal doc­u­ments. It was launched in March last year and thou­sands of peo­ple have also used the app to chal­lenge park­ing tick­ets, which is what it was ini­tially de­signed for.

While some­thing this handy could be of great ben­e­fit to South Africans, as well as refugees who seek asy­lum here, we have noth­ing as so­phis­ti­cated on of­fer yet.

If you are in trou­ble with the law and need an at­tor­ney or ad­vo­cate, you could be in for a shock when you are handed the bill.

Sanja Born­man, an at­tor­ney for the Gen­der Equal­ity Pro­gramme for Lawyers for Hu­man Rights, says: “Le­gal fees dif­fer widely and it all de­pends on the firm you are deal­ing with, but they can range from R400 to R3 000 an hour. If you need an ad­vo­cate to go to court, you could pay fees of up to R60 000 a day, depend­ing on the se­nior­ity of the ad­vo­cate. The more se­nior the at­tor­ney, the more you will have to pay.”

There are a cou­ple of op­tions to con­sider if you want to try to get free le­gal as­sis­tance and, in cer­tain in­stances, rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

Le­gal Aid: This is South Africa’s free le­gal as­sis­tance pro­gramme. It is funded by the state and is there for those who can’t af­ford le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Any­one can get help here, but the ma­jor­ity of Le­gal Aid’s re­sources go to­wards rep­re­sen­ta­tion in crim­i­nal mat­ters.

Born­man says: “This is a prob­lem be­cause there are many peo­ple who need le­gal help with every­day civil mat­ters such as main­te­nance cases, di­vorce cases, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence cases and evic­tions. In these in­stances, it is dif­fi­cult to get rep­re­sen­ta­tion from Le­gal Aid. It can most likely give you ad­vice, but will not be able to rep­re­sent you in court in civil cases.”

The Law So­ci­ety: Every province in South Africa has a Law So­ci­ety, which keeps track of how many ad­mit­ted at­tor­neys there are in that province. Every reg­is­tered at­tor­ney must do a cer­tain amount of pro bono work a year.

“If you can­not af­ford an at­tor­ney, you can ap­proach your Law So­ci­ety for pro bono as­sis­tance. They will match you with a pri­vate at­tor­ney who owes pro bono hours. How­ever, you will only be

Claim from your le­gal in­sur­ance: This is, of course, not a free ser­vice as you would have been pay­ing a monthly pre­mium, but if you need le­gal ad­vice or rep­re­sen­ta­tion, you can call your le­gal in­sur­ance provider’s call cen­tre and find out if they can pro­vide the ser­vice you need.

If you’re think­ing of ob­tain­ing le­gal in­sur­ance, make sure you get the right cover.

Born­man says: “I think le­gal in­sur­ance providers are much the same as law firms in that there are good ones and bad ones. You need to be clear on what the terms and con­di­tions are, and find out ex­actly what they of­fer be­fore you buy these in­sur­ance prod­ucts. Do your home­work and make sure you un­der­stand the lim­its of what they can and will do for you.”

If all else fails, you’ll have to ei­ther rep­re­sent your­self or hire an at­tor­ney or ad­vo­cate. It’s pos­si­ble to rep­re­sent your­self if the case is a straight­for­ward one. For ex­am­ple, mem­bers of the pub­lic can go to the court and fill in a pro­forma sum­mons if they are able to deal their own divorces, says Mood­ley.

How­ever, if the per­son or com­pany you are up against has le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion, it’s prob­a­bly best to get a le­gal ex­pert on your side. If you don’t, it could be like bring­ing a knife to a gun fight.

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