Legal aid for the rest of us

I have a friend, Laurie, from Long Beach, California, who is having tax issues with the IRS. Getting the problem resolved isn't something she can do on her own, she definitely needs legal help. However, instead of hiring a tax attorney at $400 an hour, Laurie went to Legal Grind, a coffeehouse in nearby Santa Monica offering a-la-carte tax services. There, she sat down over cappucinos with a tax lawyer and got a 20-minute legal consult for $45.

"That's the priciest coffee talk I've ever had, but it got the tax man off my back," she told me. She''ll go back this Saturday, the day when Legal Grind's lawyers focus on personal finance issues, so she can get advice about handling her debt load.

The Los Angeles Times did a profile recently on Legal Grind and other lawyers coming to the aid of the middle class. They're trying to put the word out that free or low-cost legal help is available for many people hurting from the recession.