"Lawyers can be a good resource and not only a hired gun," says attorney Gail J. Koff. "While I'm really an advocate of people doing everything they can without a lawyer, some things are too complicated. If they want to draft their own will, for instance, I always counsel them to do it, but then have a lawyer review it for $25 or so. A misplaced staple or wrongly numbered page can invalidate the whole thing."

One innovation increasingly common nationwide that is making legal counsel more accessible is lawyer referral services, usually sponsored by state bars and bar associations. Attorneys volunteer to provide low-cost, in-person, initial consultations. Local lawyer referral services:

The Bar Association of the District of Columbia; initial consultation $15 for first half-hour. (202) 223-1484.

*D.C. Bar Lawyer Referral and Information Service; no fee for procedural information over the telephone and $20 for initial consultation. (202) 331-4365.

*Prince George's County Bar Association; $20 for half-hour initial consultation. (301) 952-1440.

*Montgomery County Bar Association; $25 for initial half-hour consultation. (301) 279-9100.

*Alexandria Bar Association; $20 for half-hour. (703) 548-1105.

*Arlington County Bar Association; $20/half-hour. (703) 558-2243.

*Fairfax County Bar Association; $20 half-hour initial consultation. (703) 385-5322.