8 Ways to Make Legal Expenses More Affordable

by Team eLocal
Man and woman sitting at the lawyers office

Legal fees can add up quickly, especially for complicated, drawn-out legal matters. Even if you're on a budget, you can find quality legal counsel to advise and represent you.

Try these ideas for saving money on legal expenses.

How to Save on Legal Costs

Every legal situation is different, and lawyers vary widely in their fees based on the type of law, experience and location. No matter what your income is, saving on legal expenses is important. These suggestions can help you lower your legal fees.

1. Consider the Billing Method

Lawyers typically charge one of three ways: hourly, flat fees or contingency fees. Compare the options and ask for a different billing method if it will fit your budget better. Here's how each billing method works:

  • Hourly: If you use a lawyer who charges hourly fees, you might have to pay a retainer, which is essentially a deposit when you retain the lawyer's services. The total can get quite large and can be difficult to anticipate, depending on how complicated your case is.
  • Flat rate: Flat fees are easier to budget for, and you can control the costs. This option is typically available for a straightforward case with relatively limited work for the lawyer.
  • Contingency fees: This payment structure doesn't require you to pay out of pocket. Instead, your lawyer will keep a portion of the money you receive from the suit. If you don't win a settlement or verdict, you don't pay anything. This option is usually only available for personal injury cases where you're expected to receive a payout.

2. Negotiate the Fees

No matter which billing method your lawyer uses, you can always negotiate the rates. Your attorney might agree to a reduced hourly rate, flat rate or percentage they'll receive for contingency fees. Get the agreed-upon rates for legal fees in writing.

3. Contact Multiple Lawyers

Shopping around for different attorneys can help you find a more affordable option. Lawyers can vary significantly in their rates depending on their experience and other factors. If you live in a large city with expensive legal expenses, look at lawyers in smaller towns nearby to find cheaper rates. You'll typically pay more for experience, and partners typically cost more than associate lawyers. Keep in mind that with an hourly rate, you could end up paying more for a less experienced attorney who takes longer to research and handle tasks.

4. Come Prepared

If you're paying your lawyer an hourly rate, it's important to do everything you can to prepare. Make sure you know what documents and information you need before meetings. Show up with everything neatly organized and ready to go. If your lawyer has to sort through a jumbled mess of receipts or contact you for more information because things are missing, you'll pay more for the extra time. Make your lawyer's job as easy as possible to cut your legal expenses.

5. Limit Your Interactions

It's also important to limit how much you contact your lawyer if they're charging hourly legal fees. You'll likely be charged for every phone call, email and other forms of contact since it's taking your attorney's time. Some attorneys don't charge for short phone calls with a quick resolution, but it's still best to avoid lots of unnecessary interactions. If you call five times a day to check on your case status, your lawyer will likely charge you for those calls. Instead, save all of your questions and schedule one phone call where you can concisely go over all of your questions, concerns or information.

6. Request Detailed Bills

Ask your attorney to send you a detailed bill each month if you're paying an hourly rate. This allows you to verify that they're charging for reasonable things and services they actually provided. Keep track of your calls, emails and other interactions if your attorney charges for them. You can compare your log to the bill to ensure your lawyer charges you correctly.

7. Be Willing to Compromise

When you're involved in a legal battle, it's tempting to look out for yourself and fight to get everything you want. You have the right to do that, but you'll likely pay more for it since it means more work for your lawyer. Easy cases with quick resolutions result in the lowest legal fees. While you don't want to get a bad deal, being willing to compromise with the other party can end the case sooner and for less money.

8. Avoid Going to Trial

A similar way to save money is to avoid going to trial. Using mediation or arbitration instead of going to court can significantly reduce your legal expenses. Your attorney has less work to do to prepare and spends less time on your case overall. Sometimes it's worth going to court to fight for a better outcome. Listen to your attorney for advice on whether or not pursuing a trial is best for your situation.

What Resources Are Available to People Who Cannot Afford Legal Fees?

Many areas have nonprofit legal aid organizations that offer free legal services for civil cases. Search for a legal aid office in your city or state to see if you qualify. Or, use search this database of legal aid organizations created by the Legal Services Corporation.

These services don't accept all cases, and you have to qualify for assistance. Some legal aid offices also don't have enough resources to help everyone, so you could be turned away even if you qualify.

If you have a law school in your area, contact them to see if they have a free legal clinic. You'll likely work with law students who are supervised by their professors.

Another option is to contact the Bar Association chapter in your state or local area. They might have pro bono programs, free legal workshops and other services for low-income residents. The American Bar Association has a list of free legal resources here. You can also ask for referrals. Local attorneys may be willing to work at a reduced rate to better meet your budget.