You probably haven’t reached whatever stage you’re at in life without hiring a lawyer—or at least having a legal question.
And we all know that legal fees can rapidly work up to astronomical sums. As an alternative, since July 18 attorney Jeff Bellas of Orleans has offered his legal services at the rate of $125 an hour or $62.50 for a half hour during new walk-in hours at his office. This rate represents a reduction in what Outer Cape attorneys generally charge – $200 an hour and up.
“For $62.50 you can come in and get your question answered,” Bellas said during a telephone interview last week. “We live in a complex world. People always have legal questions. So many people ignore the question and it becomes a problem.”
Bellas calls his firm “P5 Legal.” His five P’s are: “planning, preparation, promote, protect, performance.”
So what are these burning legal questions? You might, for example, question a contract before signing it. A landlord might refuse to give you back a security deposit. Someone might try to stiff you out of owed compensation. The school system might not step up for your special needs child. These are the types of issues Bellas might tackle during his walk-in hours. (He would not, for example, initiate a lengthy divorce during walk-in hours, or generally undertake anything to do with family law or litigation.) His motto: “Don’t let a little problem become a big problem.”
Bellas, 59, operates under a different philosophy from that of many attorneys. After he graduated from law school, Bellas came to believe that in terms of legal services, “the wealthy people are well-taken care of” while the poor can get “adequate protection” through safety nets. That leaves a big group in the middle that “can’t really afford traditional legal services,” he says.
For example, one client built a new house off-Cape several years ago. When his new septic system failed, his builder said, “too bad” and “breeched an implied warranty,” Bellas says. If people don’t “step up to the plate, there’s not much you can do unless you hire a lawyer.” Yet if this client went to a typical attorney, that attorney would ask for a $4,000 retainer, and “people don’t carry around $4,000 for a lawyer,” Bellas says. Bellas took the case, and began by writing what he dubs his “rattle the cage” letter. He followed that with a “demand letter.”
“Typically the two letters will get the parties together,” he says.
Bellas developed his philosophy toward practicing law because his education was anything but typical. Born in Alberta, Canada, he lived in New Jersey from the ages of 10 to 15. At 15 he left home because “I had a bad home situation,” he says. The following year he hitchhiked across the country and even hopped freight trains as he crossed the lower 48 states and 10 Canadian provinces. “I was a vagabond—always more comfortable with ne’er-do-wells,” he recalls. At that impressionable age Bellas observed that people were often mistreated for “who they were, not what they did.” And that stuck in his craw.
Somewhere along the way he earned his GED, and in 1987 moved to Orleans where he worked as a mason for Bob Sparrow, co-owner of Orleans’s Hot Chocolate Sparrow coffee bar. During the cold fall of 1990 he told Sparrow that he was going to go to college. After a stint of night classes at Cape Cod Community College, Bellas managed to work his way through the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and then went on to William and Mary Law School, graduating in 1998. Yet even then, with a newly-minted law degree, Bellas did not forget the many down-and-out people he met on the road.
“I came up through the ranks,” he says, referring to his various jobs in masonry, construction and fishing. “A lot of the folks I grew up with stayed at a certain economic level.” And these are the people he aims to help.
Through the years Bellas has also done his share of pro bono work, which he likes to call “neighbor law.” In exchange for legal work, he has sometimes accepted fish or oysters. Pro bono work is “part of what I do because of my own belief system,” he says.
Problems that Bellas will tackle during walk-in hours are contracts and legal forms; potential disputes; consumer fraud including unfair debt collection; simple wills and related estate matters; and non-criminal legal matters.
“Lawyers are not typically approachable,” he says. “I want to be an approachable lawyer.”
The P5 Legal walk-in hours are Mondays and Wednesdays from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m.; Tuesdays from 2 to 7:30 p.m.; and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon. The fee of $125 for an hour (with a minimum fee of $62.50) is due at the time of service, and credit cards and Paypal are accepted. P5 Legal is at 195 Route 6A, Unit 4, Orleans. For more information call P5 at 508-945-3040.