Have you ever found yourself in a position where you need legal advice, but didn’t know where to go? Legal Mom Marisa Monteiro Borsboom writes about one such agency in the Netherlands, the Juridisch Loket, that provides free legal advice. The free advice, however, comes with caveats. Read on to learn how to get the most out of this agency if you ever need to.
Legal advice in the Netherlands
No matter how much of a law-abiding citizen you are, you will always encounter a legal problem which you don’t have a straightforward solution or answer for. What are the first steps that you need to take? The first thing that comes to mind would be to seek legal advice from a lawyer. But this isn’t as simple as you would first think, and it raises a lot of questions. For example, who do you approach first with your specific problem? Do you actually need to get a lawyer in the first place and if so, can you afford the expensive fees of this particular lawyer?
Some of you may have already found yourselves in such a situation and you may have probably heard of the Juridisch Loket (Legal Help Desk), a widely considered ‘free’ legal advice provider in the Netherlands. In this column we will explain more about the Juridisch Loket so you can know what to reasonably expect.
There are multiple organizations in the Netherlands which can offer you legal advice or assistance through their professionals. For example, there are law firms that organize monthly consultation hours during which you can visit to ask and discuss your legal issue. There are also plenty of Rechtswinkels (legal aid centers) you can go to for information and ‘free’ advice. This column, however, will focus on the Juridisch Loket, the most commonly known ‘free’ alternative to seeking out a lawyer.
The Juridisch Loket
The Juridisch Loket is a subsidized initiative of the government which provides legal advice to private persons (not to companies). Created two decades ago by the government to provide fair access to legal advice for all, it is funded by the Raad voor Rechtsbijstand (Council for Legal Assistance) and the Ministry of Justice and Security. It’s an independent (yet public) and approachable institution where everyone in the Netherlands can go to for free legal advice, tips, and information. You do not need to be a formal citizen.
The Jurdisch Loket gives legal advice on the following topics: Residence & Neighbors, Work & Income, Family & Relationships, Police and Justice, Purchases & Warrantees and Debts & Collection. While they provide ‘free’ legal advice to ‘everyone’, there is some fine print to take into account.
Free, but limited advice
First of all, the Juridisch Loket isn’t completely ‘free’. It is true that you can get general tips, information and advice regarding what you should do, for free; however, this advice only goes so far. You can e-mail them, visit them during consultancy hours, or call them by phone. In case of a visit, you’ll have travel expenses; if you prefer a phone call, you’ll be charged a fee per minute which can amount up to €12,50.
The legal professionals of the Juridisch Loket are open to listen to your problem, analyze your case and explain the relevant legal terms or the strength of your position to you, but only for approximately 15 minutes. Be prepared for a wait of 45 to 60 minutes for your turn.
They might recommend you to write a letter to the other party with the help of their templates. They might also advise you to discuss the dispute with the other party in order to come to a friendly agreement. What they won’t do is undertake action for you to solve your problem.
Beyond the limits of free advice
That said, if the legal professional determines that more time is required to answer your question due to its complexity, he or she can propose a follow-up meeting. The follow-up meeting has a small fee and can only be proposed by the professional at his or her discretion. You cannot ask for a follow-up meeting yourself.
It is important to emphasize that you can only have this follow-up meeting if your annual (collective) income is under a certain limit. The Juridisch Loket is primarily meant for people who can’t afford legal advice. Furthermore, they don’t deal with matters such as business rent, advocacy (representation), agricultural lease, assets, immovable goods or company-related questions.
How to get the most out of the Juridisch Loket
In light of the above, the Juridisch Loket isn’t meant to give you substantive legal advice. They will usually refer you to another party which can help you such as a lawyer or a mediator. On their website and their YouTube channel there is a list of topics and Q&A’s which pretty much answer basic legal questions. Our word of advice: do some research first on their website and other sources since these usually provide you with a strong basis and sometimes even a solution.
The lawyer or mediator the Juridisch Loket refers you to will generally involve paid legal advice or services to resolve your issue. This brings us back to our starting point: needing legal advice or action but not being able to afford it.
Can’t afford a lawyer? How to get financial assistance
Don’t lose hope though. The Council for Legal Assistance (Raad voor Rechtsbijstand) provides a toevoeging (state-funded legal aid) to people who can’t afford legal services. In order to receive this toevoeging, the Council will check your income. Nonetheless, you will always have to pay a part of the fee depending on your income, the eigen bijdrage (own contribution).
Coming back to the Juridisch Loket, it is still useful to contact them because of the €54 discount on the eigen bijdrage after they refer you to a lawyer. When they make the referral, they will give you a ‘diagnosis document’, which outlines your legal issue and their advice for its resolution. This document also gives you the right to claim the discount on the eigen bijdrage.
Juridisch Loket: a good starting point
On a final note, the Juridisch Loket can be a good starting point to understand your legal position. Start by doing some research yourself on their website and on the web. Most answers for questions which don’t have to be resolved within court can be found online (see our suggestions below). The Juridisch Loket can also be helpful in claiming a discount on the costs for required legal services in the case you do need a lawyer.
If this column was useful for you and you have a potentially relevant legal question or issue that you would like to see discussed in future posts or you would just like to show your appreciation, feel free to send us an e-mail with the subject line ‘Legal Mom’.
We’d like to extend our thanks to Luisa Rodrigues, Ahmed Hadzic and Andrei Panciu for their valuable input.