When You Can’t Afford A Lawyer


There’s no getting away from the fact that hiring a lawyer can be quite expensive. There is good reason for this, as lawyers are highly trained professionals who work hard to get the qualifications necessary to do their work, but the truth remains that many people don’t have the kinds of funds necessary to hire the lawyer who is best suited to their case. But just because you can’t afford a lawyer doesn’t mean you don’t need one. How can a client who’s down on their luck afford a lawyer when they need one?

Why we’re asking

Hiring a lawyer is expensive. Even just a consultation can cost far more than the average person is able to pay. But lots of people still need legal advice and assistance. Our legal professionals have been around the block a few times, and they understand the ins and outs of affording legal help. If anybody knows what a financially disadvantaged person’s options are, it’s them. And so we’re asking:

What do you do when a client can’t afford your services?

Are there payment plans for legal help?

When do you decide to work pro bono? How does that work?

Are there any other financing options that clients should look into?

Are there any alternatives to hiring a lawyer (consultations, etc.) that you would recommend?

Please post your answers in the comment field below!


  1. I utilized Legal Shield for basic legal service about a year ago. The prices were very good for small business but the downfall to that is that sometimes it is clear that it’s a service plan with limitations. The communication was good at times but there was a memorable gap in a pertinent issue that left me disappointed; the entire reason I sought a relationship, actually. I still love our lawyers out there trying to help the little guys, it just became clear that some matters you will have to paid for on the conventional pay scale to have meaningful legal issues tended to properly. It’s an expensive industry.

    Some lawyers can be found for pro-bono, but legal issues can be severely draining in addition to being expensive. In regards to an unpaid amount of about $4,000.00 from a former client I did speak to a collection agent which a colleague referred me to. This is sometimes a legal option for payment issues but results vary and for obvious reasons are not guaranteed.

  2. At Jane Doe Advocacy Center, we offer services on a sliding scale based on income and always have the option of setting up an automatic payment plan. As long as we can see that clients are making payments as they are able and are not taking advantage of the system, we are happy to work that way. Of course, when filing fees and immediate expenses come up, the client is responsible for paying those fees. We have this flexibility because we are a non-profit organization, but in reality, we have yet to receive any grant funding to cover our generous fee model. Most of the private attorneys we work with and refer clients to also work on payment plans. Few people plan on hard times and thus they don’t save money for a lawyer. Generally speaking, as long as you’re honest and make your best efforts to pay, you should be able to find a lawyer when you really need one.

  3. My law office offers payment plans for our legal services. These plans call for the client to make progress payments. As each progress payment is made, additional legal work is performed. Also, in special situations my office will charge a sliding fee based a person’s assets and income.

    The Massachusetts Bar Association encourages pro bono legal services for people are indigent or nearly indigent. Annually my office provides pro bono services to people who truly can not afford top pay for our legal service. These clients are referred to my office by social agencies who have already determined their inability to pay for legal services.

    To keep legal fees manageable, I will utilize a paralegal who works at a lower rate.

    Legal services can be financed via charge card. We are noticing that more people are using charge cards to pay for legal services.

    Lastly my office offers flat fees allowing the consumer to choose the type of legal services he or she desires. All fees are disclosed in a fee agreement which the client reads and signs before work begins.

  4. My firm does negligence cases exclusively. All of our cases are taken on a contingency, meaning we only get paid if and when we recover for the client. Even so, many callers ask how much the initial consultation will cost. My standard answer is “Nothing, we review all cases free of charge, and if we take it, we don’t get paid until we recover for you.” I am surprised at how many potential clients are not aware of this. The contingent fee is often criticized, and sometimes misunderstood, but it remains as the average citizen’s access to legal representation that they could not afford any other way.

  5. Depending upon what services someone needs, there are a variety of lower cost options. In divorce and family law, mediation (provided the 2 parties can speak to each other amicably) is always much less expensive. Some law schools have free legal clinics for certain types of legal problems. Then there are always government agencies that offer help. A quick google search can help you find a list of public defenders, child support services, or other government advocacy organization.

  6. Our primary practice area is consumer and small business bankruptcy. We offer a sliding scale for legal assistance. This scale is based on income, type of legal issues and the attitude of the potential client. We realize it is a challenge for our clients to pay for our services. We give them a lot of free advice, including pre-bankruptcy planning. We also show them the value of having a very experienced attorney on their side. We then explain how they can pay for our services, including installment payments or payment by third parties. Lastly, at least 6 to 8 pro bono cases each year. These pro bono spots are normally reserved for the elderly, large families or extremely low income.

    I also started the Self Help Center at the Arizona Bank Court. At the center we offer free legal advice to consumers. We now have almost 30 attorney volunteers.

    How folks get legal advice is changing. They use the Internet for legal advice and document preparers, some who are in foreign countries. I am not sure how a lawyer competes with some of these providers, other than to offer additional value over and above these other resources.

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