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Justice is Served Daily

USA Weekend

February 16, 2001

"Shades of Ed: The California coffeehouse where "justice is served daily"

AT THE LEGAL GRIND in Santa Monica, Calif., law is anything but. This real-life version of NBC's hit series "Ed" (whose lead character practices law out of the bowling alley he owns) is run by - you guessed it - an affable, hunky lawyer, Jeffrey J. Hughes, 35. Rather than a chance to down pins, here $20 will get you a 10-minute consultation and all the java you can drink. The pairing has been a big hit, professionally and personally: This month marks the fifth anniversary of the "coffee and counsel" watering hole, just honored by the American Bar Association for its service working Joes (and coffee fiends) who may not be able to afford both a pricey Starbucks latte and a lawyer.

The menu features legal specialties du jour (Wednesday? Stop by for family law, including divorce, spousal support, child support and prenups). The most common topics? Landlord/tenant problems, family law issues, employment law and personal injury. Says Hughes: "If half the people who come [here] had gotten it in writing, there never would have been a problem."

Why does an ambitious young lawyer give up a promising career in San Francisco to open a novelty coffeeh9ouse? "I want to help change the perception of lawyers," says Hughes, who was inspired to pursue a law degree by Gregory Peck's portrayal of a lawyer in "To Kill a Mockingbird." Finding the space was easy: Hughes' grandfather's former Santa Monica awning shop got a facelift and was reincarnated as the Legal grind. Against a wall once lined with sewing machines are tables where lawyers offer advice to clients "of all makes and models," with incomes from $25,000 to $125,000.

The common element, Hughes says, is "just people looking for value." The response? "Overwhelmingly enthusiastic." So much so that Hughes opened a second store in San Fernando Valley; a third opens this year. He hopes to find partners to expand across the country and go public.

Clients "are just tickled there's a place they can go that caters to them, not to the lawyers," Hughes says. Even if you don't need legal advice, it's still a bargain: A cup of coffee goes for about a buck.

Contributing: Elizabeth McCall and Brenda Biondo

Lattes and Legal Advice

by Beth Panitz

National Restaurant Association's Fork in the Road Magazine

Fall 2001

The Legal Grind® coffeehouse in Santa Monica, California, serves justice along with a cup of joe. Similar to the title character of the TV series 'Ed''who operates a law practice in a bowling alley'35-year old lawyer Jeffrey J. Hughes doles out legal advice in a caf' setting. Hughes and a network of lawyers offer what he refers to as 'coffee and counsel'.' For $25, customers get a 10-to-15-minute consultation and all the java they can drink.

Hughes' Legal grind helps the community by providing affordable legal advice. 'We serve people who don't have a lot of discretionary income to spend on lawyers,' he says. 'We've created an environment that makes people feel comfortable asking any [legal] question. There's no such thing as a stupid question. It's great to have a place where people can come for advice.'

The coffeehouse features legal specialties of the day. For example, Wednesday's specials include family law and real-estate law; Saturdays feature estate planning, small-business advising and medical-malpractice advice. Legal specialists in the respective areas provide the consultations on a voluntary basis.

The Legal Grind also features a self-help legal library. Over a cup of coffee and a pastry, customers can peruse law books in search of answers to their legal problems.

A 1992 graduate of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, Hughes founded the Legal Grind in 1996 as a way of combining his interest in restaurants and law. ''Since I was a kid, I've been working in the restaurant industry,' he says. 'I got a work permit when I was in junior high school. I was busing tables at age 12 at Coach's Corner restaurant in Cost Mesa, California.'

Throughout high school and college at the University of California at Los Angeles, Hughes worked as a waiter at several local restaurants as well as a shift manager at Orange Julius on Balboa Peninsula, California. 'I was kind of scheming all the time [about running my own restaurant someday]. I was even drawing logos.' Eventually, Hughes also developed an interest in law. But after graduating from law school, Hughes says that he realized that 'I didn't want to bill myself out as a traditional lawyer. . . . I thought, 'Why don't I just combine my interests [in restaurants and law].'' Thus, Legal Grind was born.

Hughes' assistant, Maria Murphy, agrees that the Legal Grind fills an important community need, while providing a rewarding career. 'People can bring their legal questions to a casual, [non-threatening] atmosphere,' says the 25-year-old Murphy, a 2000 law-school graduate of the State University of New York in Buffalo. She spends her days serving up espressos and lattes ' and legal assistance. Murphy prepares legal documents and fields phone requests for legal advice, referring callers to the appropriate legal specialist for a consultation. She also makes a mean latte. 'I pride myself on making good foam,' says Murphy. 'I had no idea that I could work in a coffee shop and be a lawyer. I'm using my law degree in a casual, freewheeling atmosphere.'

As for Hughes, he's opening a second Legal Grind in Inglewood, California, this year and plans to take his legal-coffeehouse concept nationwide. He proudly notes that 'all my life experiences and education added up to allow me to do this.'

Legal Grind® Swims with the Sharks

Contact: Jeffrey Hughes
Phone: (310) 452-8160
Email: jeff@legalgrind.com


Tune in Friday, January 29 (9 PM ET/8 PM CT) to the ABC Television Network to see Legal Grind® pitch their innovative idea on "Shark Tank"

Jeff and Annie Hughes will be showcasing Legal Grind® Coffee & Counsel®: the world's first Coffeehouse and Legal Resource Center on ABC's prime-time reality television show 'Shark Tank' on Friday, January 29 (9 PM ET/8 PM CT). The episode will re-air on March 6 (4pm ET/3 PM CT).

Legal Grind® incorporates the comfort of the coffeehouse setting with the support of a legal resource center to offer the ordinary American access to objective legal advice. In addition to affordable legal advice, Legal Grind® offers consumers a cost-saving opportunity to identify and select specific areas of their case in which to receive legal help or representation.

Deriving the idea from his love of coffeehouses, Jeff realized that the coffeehouse environment was a natural forum for a "self help" legal resource center. "Coffeehouses bring people together in an appealing, relaxing atmosphere to converse and share information. By incorporating this existing foundation, Legal Grind® introduces a unique 'outreach model' to the middle-class American where lawyers bring services one step closer to the people that need them but cannot normally afford them," says Jeff of the Legal Grind® concept.

From Mark Burnett, executive producer of "Survivor" and "The Apprentice," 'Shark Tank' gives ambitious entrepreneurs an opportunity to pitch their product or idea to a group of five ruthless, multi-millionaire investors (known as the 'sharks').

Legal Grind® currently has locations in Santa Monica, Inglewood and Baltimore. With funds from a Shark Tank investor, Jeff and Annie would have the opportunity to introduce additional locations in high-need areas around the country as well as finance a franchising system.

About Legal Grind®

Jeff Hughes founded Legal Grind® 13 years ago with one goal in mind: to provide quality legal services at an affordable price to the ordinary, middle-class American in a comfortable environment - the modern-day coffeehouse.

In 2001, Legal Grind® won the American Bar Association's legal access award for its innovative model, and was recently featured in the ABA's journal in an article on innovative lawyering.

For more information on VShark Tank," visit http://abc.go.com/shows/shark-tank/.

Coffee and the Law

NPR : Coffee and the Law

March 25, 2001

In Santa Monica, California, the Legal Grind Cafe serves up a mean law-tte — that's coffee with a side of legal advice. From member station KCRW, Eric Roy reports on this unusual effort that's providing affordable legal service to Angelinos.

Cappuccino and Consortium

By Susan E. Davis, California Lawyer

California Lawyer

July 2001

"Cappuccino and Consortium With unbundled legal services, clients buy only the tasks they need."

Jeffrey Hughes set up his first cafe cum lawyer's office in 1996 after graduating from law school in 1992 and working three years for a traditional law firm. "I didn't think that I could please too many people practicing law in the traditional manner," he says. "Besides, I get bored pretty easily." So Hughes set up LegalGrind® Coffee and Counsel in Santa Monica, a cafe that serves legal advice-for an astonishing $25 a pop--along with its cafes au lait and lattes. "For whatever reason, I feel more connected with the masses than the elite," he says. "for as long as lawyers have existed, they have primarily served those with money. But to have a true democracy, the population must have access to their legal system."

At Hughes' cafe, the motto of which is Justice Served Daily, began serving more than just legal advice. It also started offering specific legal services at affordable prices. The idea was that plenty of working- and middle-class folks needed to get some services, i.e. document preparation or a court appearance, instead of paying for the entire menu of a lawyer's services.

In 1996 Hughes opened up LegalGrind® Annex, another cafe-legal services outpost, in Tarzana. Then in late 1996 he moved part of his business onto the Web at www.legalgrind.com. There, clients can find links to self-help books and online legal resources, locate an attorney, or receive advice from an attorney with expertise in family law, entertainment law, criminal law, tenant-landlord law, workers compensation, and just about every other area of the law. In June 1998, Hughes added a certified lawyer referral service to the mix, which can point clients in the direction of lawyer with expertise in their potential case.

Today, Hughes estimates that he and his network of attorneys have helped more than 15,000 people in the past six years. His service won the American Bar Association's (ABA) Louis M. Brown Award for Legal Access in 2001.

What Hughes has set up is commonly called "unbundled" legal services or "discrete task representation." In this system, rather than buying the whole menu of a lawyer's expertise, from intake to final paperwork, clients simply buy help with certain aspects of a legal task, such as deciding whether or not to file for bankruptcy, getting help with legal documents or procedures, or receiving expert representation in court. The advantage for the client is affordable access to legal services; the advantage for the attorney is that he or she gets paid while helping people who wouldn't otherwise have access to legal services.

The idea of unbundled legal services isn't novel. One could argue that, in fact, services such as ghostwriting a letter or giving advice informally over the phone have always counted as unbundling. And the ABA has been looking at the possibility of such services for almost two decades now. But it's only been in the past few years, with the explosion of the Internet and growing disenchantment with high legal fees, the idea has really started to come into its own--at least as far as the public is concerned. And it's only just now those prospective clients have really begun to demand it.

Why Unbundle

Though the traditional notion of lawyering is to offer full representation, advocates of unbundling say the economic realities of the legal profession are beginning to make that seems less than viable. "Even in the early 1980s, our research showed that the number of pro se litigants was rising," says William Hornsby, a staff attorney with the ABA and staff counsel to the ABA's Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services. "Our research also showed that those pro se litigants were still using some resources provided by the courts and lawyers. In other words, these people weren't without lawyers, they just didn't want the soup-to-nuts representation traditionally provided by lawyers."

There are numerous other purveyors of unbundled services around, especially within family law circles. "Family law particularly lends itself to unbundling because some people may not need the whole package," says Richard Rabbin, who specializes in family law in Ventura. "You may have a client who has no property issues but needs help with spousal support or child custody. Or you may have a client who just wants advice on working out custody but doesn't need representation in court. They can save money by just paying a straight hourly fee and no retainer."

That same complexity of tasks, however, can sometimes make unbundling unrealistic in family law, Rabbin hastens to add. "You may find that when you seek to modify support, you get back an order to modify custody," he says, and the clients end up paying for more legal help than they expected. In other words, unbundling works best for simple situations in which the parties have agreed to everything and need an attorney only to help them formalize it.

How can attorneys make a living if they provide such piecemeal service at low rates? "Most of the attorneys who work for me don't do unbundled services 100 percent of the time," Hughes says. "Most have successful, traditional practices on the side. But by doing this they get to feel they're contributing to the community while still getting paid for their time.

"I'd rather be loved by millions that have millions of dollars," he adds, "although I expect to accomplish both. People come by the LegalGrind® every day and rave about how brilliant the concept is. Even lawyers. The important thing is that lawyer are becoming more accessible to people."

Although some advocates of unbundling have set up shop only in cyberspace, Hughes is adamant about keeping one foot in the bricks-and-mortar camp, just because he doubts that a Web practice alone can succeed. Hughes opened LegalGrind® in the same space that his grandfather ran an awning tore for 35 years, right on Lincoln Boulevard in Santa Monica, which is also Route 1. "I think people need to see a building and a person when they use legal services," he says. "I know a lot of techies think that computers can do everything a human can do, but I think most people still need to see a face when they hire an attorney."

Ethical Considerations

The unbundling movement is not without its detractors. Some say, for instance, that by taking on only one aspect of a case, attorneys break the ethical obligation to fully represent clients and even open themselves up to malpractice suits if something goes wrong with another aspect. (Rule 1.2(c) of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct actually says it's OK to do limited legal services, as long as the client agrees.) Others say that serious problems arise if an online attorney starts giving advice to "clients" outside the attorney's jurisdiction. "I suspect more lawyers are guilty of unauthorized practice than nonlawyers," the ABA's Hornsby says, "just because lawyers get into these murky jurisdictional areas." But Hughes claims that technology fixes for such issues are just around the corner. "We're planning to get software that can identify where an email is coming from, so that we can avoid just these kinds of problems," he says.

Hughes also notes that some attorneys are afraid high-volume, low-priced legal service establishments could take business away from more traditional lawyers' businesses. "But we don't see it as taking away business," he says, "because these clients wouldn't hire a traditional lawyer. We see what we're doing as opening new markets."

Attorney brews cafe-based law practice

Nation's Restaurant News
The Newsweekly of the Foodservice Industry

March 19, 2001

Jeffrey Hughes: Attorney brews cafe-based law practice

When attorney Jeffrey Hughes opened The Legal Grind Coffee & Counsel five years ago in Santa Monica, Calif., he envisioned a nationwide rollout of a cafe concept that stirs affordable legal advice into its menu mix.

Now those plans are moving forward he says, after 5the American Bar Association honored him with its Louis M. Brown Award for Legal Access. The resulting publicity has kept his phone ringing with offers from attorneys nationwide who want to open Legal Grind branches in their towns...

Legal Grind customers choose from two menus: the Legal Grind® beverage choices and the "Justice Served Daily" list of attorney services and prices. Beverages include such trademarked items as Hughes espresso-based "Law-tte" and freshly prepared juices called the "Legal Squeeze."

His legal services range from a 10-minute session with an attorney for $20 to the drafting of a living trust for $600. Customers also can browse legal self-help books or purchase time online.

Why did you come to base your law practice in a cafe?

I started in the restaurant business when I was 13 years old, and I always wanted to have a cafe. Then I got my law degree. My grandfather had this piece of property, and it was all there. I wanted a place that would build trust, because there is a trust deficiency between consumers and the legal profession. I use a cafe atmosphere with a menu of legal services.

How do you plan to expand your brand?

I'm looking for non-attorney partners who know the restaurant business to co-brand with. I'd like to find existing restaurants near a courthouse.

There must be some peace of mind in expanding since you have copyrighted the brand and trademarked items on your legal and food menus.

Actually, in Canada and Texas there are attorneys infringing on the trademark, and we'll probably have to litigate. They're attorneys as well, so it could get really nasty. It's an example of who we don't want to be.

Coffeehouse setting for clients

by Erin Cassin

Los Angeles Times/Our Times

September 7, 2000

Legal Grind® offers a coffeehouse setting for clients needing legal assistance.

TARZANA -- Tucked away on Ventura Boulevard, in the midst of an ordinary-looking shopping plaza is a cozy cafe that provides an unusual side dish to its menu of coffee, bagels and desserts - legal counsel.

For the past six months, Coffee Junction in Tarzana has served as an annex for Legal Grind, a business that provides legal consultations in a cafe setting.

Lawyers provide information on everything from landlord and tenant disputes to personal injury cases. If they can't help directly, they can provide a referral.

Legal Grind founder Jeffrey Hughes saw the business as a way to combine two longtime dr3eams, becoming a lawyer and a cafe owner, while improving the image of lawyers in California.

'I was a lawyer and I wasn't proud of my profession,' Hughes said. 'I was just disappointed with the whole thing, and I thought I could do something about it that combined two of my interests.'

Five years ago, Hughes opened Legal grind in Santa Monica. The operation has since expanded, with a nonprofit branch, services on the Internet and the annex in Tarzana.

Three lawyers work out of the Tarzana spot, which in recent months has operated more on an appointment basis, where potential clients contact the lawyers by phone rather than in the cafe, according to Jeffrey Endler, manager of the Tarzana branch.

Clients can set up appointments with a lawyer at Coffee Junction, where consultation cost $15.

'It's about bringing the services to the public in places where they feel comfortable,' Hughes said.

Endler believes that by meeting in the cafes casual atmosphere, clients view the lawyers as a sort of friend, rather than as an intimidating figure.

'Everyone loved the idea that lawyers were doing the work to show that, 'Hi, I'm a human being,' he said.

Michael Matteo used Legal Grind's services when he began having problems with his landlords. He was searching for a lawyer who would not treat him like just another routine case.

'I wanted somebody who hadn't been practicing law for 80 years and was bored with the profession,' he said. Matteo called Legal grind and was referred to Endler, who specializes in landord-tenant disputes.

'There is no condescension and pretension about [Endler]. It's refreshing,' Matteo said.

Hughes hopes that by helpning clients on smaller matters, Legal Grind will build a loyal clientele.

'We're offering a chance for lawyers to brand themselves. We're building a reputable brand to last into the next century,' said Hughes, who hopes to eventually take Legal grind nationwide.

Hughes only brings on board lawyers who share his view on 'bringing honesty back to the profession.'

'We have to weed out the people that are just thinking of expanding their practices,' he said. 'We avoid that because it's our reputation that we're building.'

He sees businesses in the 21st century as a combination of financial and human interests.

'Profit and philanthropy can go hand in hand,' he said.

IN both medicine and law, the trend has been toward more accessible and consumer-friendly formats, with referral services and do-it-yourself books.

'Providing readily available accessibility to law for people with lower and middle incomes is great,' said Mary Viviano, a spokeswoman for the State Bar of California.

With businesses such as Legal grind, where the lawyers are certified and the organization authorized by the Sate Bar, Viviano feels a beneficial service is provided.

'It takes a lot to get people to take that extra step and get legal help. It can really overcome barriers when it is made easier for people to take that extra step and do it in a comfortable atmosphere,' she said.

You want a tort with that latte?

Forbes Magazine

May 3, 1999

Legal Grinds may look like Starbucks at first but they are all state-bar-certified.
You want a tort with that latte?

THESE DAYS a lawyer will bill you for a message left on his voice mail and then bill you when you call to contest the over billing. No wonder most folks might avoid having coffee with their counsel.

Jeffrey Hughes is out to change that. Legal Grind, Hughes' California-based chain of coffee bars, may look like a dressed-down Starbucks on the outside, but the stores actually are legal referral centers, state-bar-certified and staffed in part by lawyers. This fact doesn't deter customers. "People actually come here for the coffee," Hughes asserts. But most come for legal counseling or a referral.

Since 1996, Hughes says, Legal Grind has hosted more than 10,000 lawyer consultations. He started the business just three years out of law school, deciding he would rather serve espresso than subpoenas. Unprepared to turn his back on the law, he borrowed $35,000 and set up a coffee shop with a layman's legal library and a cappuccino machine. Customers seemed to like the mix of coffee, legal advice and bad puns: Hughes serves up "Cafe Lawtes." His idea caught on, and he opened a second shop last December. Both stores offer a full line of coffee and pastries as well as lawyers who will give a consultation at rate that is easier to swallow than a trip to your average firm: $20 per session. Coffee included.

Hughes currently is raising funds to open more java joints nationwide. And he is launching a nationwide legal referral service on his Web site, www.legalgrind.com. Hughes won't say how much he's making yet, but he points to more lucrative upside than coffee. He gets up to 10% of any damage award for customer he refers to a member attorney. So far, there are a handful of cases seeking $500,000 or more. "We do not do pro bono work," he says.


Espressos with double shots of legal advice

Frontier Magazine

September October 1999

Customers at the Legal Grind® coffee shop in Santa Monica, California,
can order their espressos with double shots of legal advice.

Justice is served

Customers at the Legal Grind® coffee shop in Santa Monica, California, can order their espressos with double shots of legal advice.

Attorney Jeffrey Hughes opened the coffee shop/legal-consultation service three and a half years ago after growing tired of another grind: the lengthy work week that usually goes along with practicing law.

The cozy shop has a contemporary feel, with its blond wood tables and leather chairs. The chalkboard menu lists lawttes instead of lattes, and the bookshelf holds self-help law books rather than literature. A sign in the back declares:' Justice Served Daily,' and $20 buys customers both a coffee and a consultation with one of 10 licensed attorneys.

Most of the consultations at Legal Grind involve simple questions, often about family law or being sued. People panic when they have to go into a courtroom, says attorney Mark Palmer. Much of his time in the coffee shop is spent assuring clients that court isn't like it's portrayed on television, with crowds of onlookers and attorneys yelling at witnesses.

Hughes recently expanded the business to include document preparation and attorney referral (also done through the Web site www.legalgrind.com). He also added a second shop, the Legal Grind Annex, in Tarzana, California, last December.

But what about Legal Grind's coffee? "I've been told I make good foam," Hughes says with pride.

Attorneys at Law and Attorneys at Breakfast


VOL.21 NO.2

AT SANTA MONICA, Calif.'s Legal Grind, attorney-owner Jeff Hughes serves justice to the people in an oversized ceramic mug. The 'Justice Blend'--a coffee with the 'body of a dark roast, and spicy cinnamon sparkle of a light roast'--is the most popular item on the menu. The most unusual, however, is another strange brew: 'Coffee and Counsel' for $20.

When Legal Grind first opened in 1996, the then-free consultations Mr. Hughes offered customers helped distinguish his store from other coffeehouses in the neighborhood. But the young lawyer wanted to apply still more of his expertise from the legal bar to the java bar, so he fashioned Legal Grind into both a coffeehouse and--as of this past June--a licensed legal referral service.

Rather than merely referring people to law offices specializing in an appropriate field, Legal Grind actually arranges for them to meet attorneys over coffee at its 'neutral and non-intimidating' location. The customer pays Mr. Hughes a $20 fee for 'Coffee and Counsel''that is, a cup of coffee and a brief preliminary consultation. The visiting lawyer, who makes money only if retained, pays Mr. Hughes a 'membership fee' and any applicable commission.

'I want to change the perception of the legal industry by providing personal, up-front access to lawyers with affordable prices,' said Mr. Hughes. 'I want to make it easier for people to find out what their rights are.'

Mr. Hughes mused about expanding nationally: 'You know, Lloyds of London started as a coffeehouse. Same with the New York Stock Exchange'I could do a nonprofit, or I could easily do a national law office, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.'

For now, he said proudly, 'I cater to everyday people, the middle class.' His typical customer seeking legal advice wants to resolve a personal injury, labor or landlord-tenant dispute.

Mr. Hughes worked at restaurants and juice bars while attending high school in Orange County and college at UCLA. After graduating from Loyola Law School of Los Angeles in 1992, he entered what he calls a tough job market. 'I was hired by a law firm that laid me off before I even started,' he recalled. He contemplated pursuing a teaching degree, but he decided instead to 'blend' his interests in education, food services and law. 'I don't want to take the gravity from the law,' he maintained. 'The Legal Grind is no joke.'

Instead of getting steamed over legal problems

By Monte Morin

Los Angeles Times

July 23, 1998

Instead of getting steamed over legal problems, owner of Santa Monica's Legal Grind has found a way for customers to solve their woes over a cup of coffee.

They might call him lawyerdom's ambassador-at-large. For two years, Jeff Hughes has attempted to break down what he calls a "wall of dread" that separates attorneys from the rest of humanity. The Santa Monica resident and Loyola Law School graduate's method is simple enough: just introduce the two over a cup of coffee.

"Approaching a lawyer can be intimidating," said Hughes, whose Legal Grind coffee shop offers free legal consultations in addition t java and bagels.

"There they are, in a suit, and you're in your street clothes. They're sitting behind a big oak desk and they've got all their support staff; even I get intimidated. What I wanted to do was create a comfortable atmosphere where people could approach lawyers."

Hughes, who sometimes can be seen serving coffee and advising a telephone caller of their constitutional rights simultaneously, said the idea is a solid one. In fact Legal Grind's consultations and lawyer-referral service have been so successful that their business is preparing to expand into West Hollywood and possibly San Francisco.

Success hasn't been without its drawbacks, however. The idea is so attractive that Hughes has to guard against those who would copy not only his idea, but his name and logo, too.

In Nevada City, a couple opened their own Legal Grind even thought the name is a federally registered trademark. Hughes found out about the operation through a customer and immediately called the business.

"I think what's going to happen is we'll see if we can do a franchise or see whether they'll cease operations as the Legal Grind. Hughes said. "If they balk, then we sue."

In another instance, a Dallas lawyer walked a thin legal line by opening a cafe called Legal Grounds.

In Santa Monica, Legal Grind offers free consultations from attorneys specializing in such fields as family law, entertainment law, criminal law, worker's compensation and tenant and landlord matters. The initial advice is free, but prospective clients must hire an attorney if they want to pursue a case with counsel. Law books also are available for purchase.

"I love this place," said customer Carol Brook-Marino. The Tujunga writer and filmmaker stumbled on the shop by chance, and found herself getting advice on a case in which she claims her name was wrongly removed from a movie's credits. " Access to the law is really nice, because we're all curious," Brook-Marino said. "It's nice when you don't have to sue any body. But when something does happen, you need to know what you can do."

The coffee shop also has carved out its own niche in a business where referrals are the lifeblood of any independent or beginning lawyer. It was Legal Grind's ability to generate referrals that got Burbank lawyer Mark Baer interested in helping Hughes start a new branch in West Hollywood.

"The only way you get clients is through advertising or referrals," Baer said. "If you have a source of pre-screened, direct referrals, that's very valuable."

Hughes hopes to open a consultation and referral service at Little Frida's a popular West Hollywood cafe where owner Kathleen Mahoney is confident the service will get a warm reception.

"I'm absolutely sure that people will be very into it," she said. The deal has yet to be finalized, but Mahoney and Hughes said they likely would clinch things by the end of the month. Hughes said he's got a number of other projects brewing, including a possible run for Santa Monica City Council.

"What's really rewarding to me is making changes," he said. " It's also nice to be able to chat with people like I do at work. I probably have one of the best jobs in the world."

It isn't just coffee

By Ellen Krout-Hasegawa

L.A. Weekly

Best of L.A.

The Legal Grind. The house blend of jurisprudence and Guatemala distinguishes this coffeehouse. Hoping to humanize the public's view of the legal profession, Jeffery J. Hughes (whose specialty is estate planning) offers "coffee & counsel" to those who can neither afford sky-high attorney fees nor qualify for Legal Aid. Each day, lawyers of varying expertise answer general legal questions for free. In this low-stress, high octane slackers' fueling station, client and attorney can confer over a cafe au lait.

Two-for-One Deal

Los Angeles Magazine

"Best of LA"

Imagine a conceptual bonding of L.A. Law and Sleepless in Seattle. Got it? Then you've sussed out Legal Grind, where one can get reams of legal advice for the cost of a double latte. Started by Jeffrey Hughes, a basking shark himself, it's a place to seek counsel in a relaxed but invigorating atmosphere. 2640 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica, 310-452-8160.

How 'Bout a Lawyer With Your Latte?

By Irene Lacher

Los Angeles Times

March 14, 1996

At Jeffrey Hughes' new coffeehouse in Santa Monica, a spot of Sumatra goes for 85 cents.

Oh yes. And a living trust cost $500.

The Legal Grind on Lincoln Boulevard may feature prosaic fare: the brew that wakes up millions as well as your daily bread - bagels, to be specific. But it doesn't have an everyday menu board. Hughes serves up legal information and prices for his services along with Mango Tango juice and four-grain bagels. And Hughes' eclectic carte du jour is his equivalent of General Motors' fair value pricing-instead of dickering over dollars, he antes up the bottom line.

"Lawyers can be very evasive" when it comes to fees, says Hughes, 30. "You can't pin them down. You don't know how much you're going to be charged. The time is ticking and you're paying. Who isn't anxious when that happens?"

Some would-be clients get nervous at the thought of dropping $200 an hour to confront their legal woes with a professional. Some don't bother and hope for the best.

The Legal Grind is designed to ease their pain.

"The coffeehouse makes law more palatable," Hughes says. Literally.

While you're sipping, you can thumb through a law dictionary thoughtfully provided on one table. Or sift through a bookshelf of how-to books for sale dealing with legal conundrums from child custody to green cards to fighting tickets.

Rory Marcus dropped by to thumb through books and chat with Hughes after finding a Legal Grind flier on her windshield.

"Legal services are very, very expensive," says the Santa Monica screenwriter. "So, the more you know yourself, the more you can do yourself, and that empowers you."

But not all is dense and dour reading matter at the Legal Grind. One paperback, jauntily titled "29 Reasons Not to Go to Law School" (Nolo Press, 1982) illustrates what happens to people pre- and post- school.

"Before law school, a human being has compassion, intelligence, ego, love and mirth," Hughes reads. "After law school, most of those qualities have disappeared, and now the lawyer has ambition, ego compulsive inclination and a competitive nature."


If Hughes is skeptical of his profession now, he was never one to toe the corporate line. "I never saw myself working in a big law firm," he says. "Never. Never. That never felt comfortable to me."

He grew up in Orange County, studied communications and business at UCLA, and trained to be a business banking officer for Wells Fargo - but the fit was bad. "I was working in the same building eight hours a day, just stuck in somebody else's building and I was stifled there," he says.

Hughes decided to try law school and enrolled at Loyola University. His first year was grueling and his law school friends were like-minded, reluctant to be pure, unadulterated attorneys - one is also a comedian, another a writer.

"We've all found our niches," Hughes says. "We're finding our individuality in the profession, which is hard to do, but if you look deep enough you can find it. I just don't like to study law eight hours a day and write, which is what lawyers do."

"Making lattes, however, is something else. And the idea for the Legal Grind percolated after Hughes began working in construction with his brother, Michael. He had drifted through construction and freelance legal work after graduating in '92, tending to health problems and traveling in Europe.

"I love to help people, and I'm also an educator at heart. I finally realized that I could teach people about law and how to find access to the law. So all my passions have kind of come together. I do have an interest in the law. I just can't do it eight hours a day and that's OK. There's a lot of pressure on law students to practice law. You just feel like you owe so much money."

So the Legal Grind is a way for Hughes, who has passed the state bar examinations in California and Colorado, to practice law - and avoid practicing law. He answers people's questions about estate planning, landlord/tenant problems, some family law matters and small-fry criminal counts. Sometimes he refers people to lawyers who specialize in their problems if they can't be dealt with simply.

One thing he says he doesn't do is give advice - just information. To avoid his own legal problems,, he says he doesn't serve up attorney-client privilege along with the French roast. Otherwise, he says "People would try to drag me into their affairs when things would sour."

The Legal Grind isn't certified by the State Bar of California to operate as a lawyer-referral service, but a bar representative says the group couldn't determine whether the Legal Grind needed to be certified without investigating.

Meanwhile, Hughes goes about the knotty business of making law seem, if not simple, at least compatible with English. Above the cappuccino machine, Hughes posted a blackboard where he defines such basic terms as "prenuptial agreement" and "consortium" under the snappy heading "Legal-ease."

And he counsels customers, such as the one who skipped a court appearance for a speeding ticket because of a nervous breakdown. Hughes suggested she show paperwork documenting her health problems to the judge.

Another customer threw a stapler at an airline employee after she was bumped off a flight for the third time. The employee made a citizen's arrest. And Hughes, chastening her that "that's not acceptable behavior in our society," suggested she seek counseling and demonstrate her good-faith effort to the judge.

In a better world, the Legal Grind would be the Starbucks of the legal information-dispensing universe. Hughes and his minions would be giving coffee and counsel to a battalion of java drinkers across the country.

"It is my goal to have a Legal Grind in every city in the United States," he says in all seriousness. "I think every city can use one."

Until then, Hughes will help out people like Bill Hannon, a construction contractor who knocked an inaccurate collection off his credit report after a trop to Legal Grind, Hannon says he's happy with his investment of time there. "it was no big deal, but if I had gone to my attorney," Hannon says, "it would have cost me about $150 to sit down and talk to him for a half an hour."

And this set you back how much?

"A cup of coffee."

A Little Law With Your Latte?

Los Angeles Daily Journal


At the Legal Grind, a coffeehouse in Santa Monica, attorney Jeffrey J. Hughes offers lattes with some legal advice on the side.

Armed with a shot of espresso, Hughes is an attorney with a cause - improving the image of attorneys and helping people get access to the legal system. Unlike many who choose alternative careers to escape the legal system, he is trying to transform it.

Along with serving a good cup of joe, Hughes wants to "reform the legal system on a grass-roots level" by acting as an "interface" between the public and the legal community.

"Access is the key word," says Hughes, who feels that a large portion of the people's legal needs are not met in today's legal system.

"I've always wanted to open up a cafe and use my law degree to help teach people about access to the legal system and how to find access to the legal system."

In fact, the goal of helping people access the legal system has been enshrined in the coffeehouse's mission statement: "The Legal Grind seeks to provide legal assistance to middle class people with ordinary problems," it says. "At the Legal Grind, working people can obtain answers to simple questions without paying large sums of money."

In addition to offering shelves of legal elf-help books and pamphlets for sale, Hughes has recruited several lawyers to donate their time one afternoon a week for one to two hours. Over a cup of the house blend (Guatemala Antigua and Espresso), customers can get free advice from lawyers during the scheduled hours.

According to a posted schedule, the current volunteers, who are mostly sole practitioners, include William Dolinski, Rae Lamothe, David Olan, Kent Ivey, Joe Longo, Eve Baker, Rebecca Holt, Mike Lyons and Liz Radosevic. The attorneys usually get coffee on the house, but sometimes a grateful advisee will treat, which makes Hughes a happier business owner.

Using the Legal Grind, his goal is to create a pleasant atmosphere that will make people more comfortable dealing with lawyers. "Conferring with an attorney over good coffee and pastries will make people realize that lawyers are people too!" says the coffeehouse's mission statement.

Although the Legal Grind has been open for only five months, Hughes already has an eye on expansion. He hopes to open another cafe in Orange County in the near future. Hughes says he will consider franchising if a dedicated candidate comes along.

In addition to operating the Legal Grind, Hughes, a 1992 graduate of Loyola Law School, maintains his law practice on the side. He practices estate planning law and small business advising as a sole practitioner in Santa Monica.