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It’s a sunny Tuesday morning in Santa Monica, Calif., and three customers walk into a neighborhood coffee shop. A chalkboard behind the counter advertises “L.A. Law’ttes” and “Cop’accinos.” Another board offers $200 bankruptcies and $125 wills. The first patron orders black coffee. The next wants a latte and a notarized document. The third is jittery enough without caffeine: She’s here because of a child custody case. “We’ve got Costa Rican Justice and Colombian Justice,” the woman behind the counter tells a visitor who asks what varieties are available by the pound. “Everybody always says, ‘What? Colombia? It has no justice.’ “ Good morning, and welcome to Legal Grind, America’s cutting-edge purveyor of strong caffeinated beverages and storefront legal advice. Founded in 1996 by local attorney Jeff Hughes, Grind provides legal counsel to L.A. residents who might not otherwise have access to such help. “I wanted a place where lawyers would be available and accessible,” says Hughes. “The coffee puts people at ease — they can walk in here even if they don’t have a legal problem.” After graduating from Loyola Law School in 1992, Hughes did some freelance legal jobs, worked construction for his family’s firm, thought about teaching high school, and traveled in Europe. But the idea of bringing law to the lawyerless finally made him feel as if he had a calling. So he took over a piece of Santa Monica real estate owned by his family and opened Legal Grind. The store poured its first cup in February 1996. Visitors to daily “Coffee & Counsel” sessions pay $25 for the chance to ask a lawyer questions and quaff all the free coffee they can (the sessions last 15 minutes). Customers seeking more extensive advice can hire a Legal Grind attorney or seek a referral through the shop. This morning, store manager Annie Cook, Hughes’s fianc�e, is preparing papers for a landlord-tenant case. Hughes says housing disputes generate most of their business, followed by family and employment cases. Los Angeles resident Jack Wartels used Legal Grind’s services last winter to help him sell his house. He says the lawyer he was referred to did solid work at a fair price. He calls Hughes’s outfit “a breath of fresh air” in the legal profession. Grind currently has six employees. Besides Hughes and Cook, there are two legal assistants, including Cook’s younger sister Julie, and a pair of document preparers. A second Grind location recently opened in nearby Inglewood. Hughes acknowledges that Grind hasn’t made him rich, but he’s proud of the stores, and he says he’s making decent money (he won’t say how much). Besides, he’s in the process of launching an altogether new venture: He and a friend are starting a law firm specializing in civil, criminal, and entertainment law. A spokesperson for Starbucks says the company has no plans to open law offices. Yet.

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