Can You Afford a Lawyer?

    There are many different reasons you might hire a lawyer. Hiring a lawyer can be extremely beneficial and can help you recover damages if you’re hurt, for example, or avoid strict penalties in criminal situations. 

    The following are some of the most common reasons people hire attorneys, in general. 

    • The law is extremely complicated. There are deadlines, paperwork, and legal terms that can be overwhelming even to people with some level of legal knowledge. Attorneys are experts at the law, and they often specialize in particular areas. They can handle the complexities of the legal system in a non-emotional way, which may not be something you can do if you’re involved in the case. 
    • When you don’t have a lawyer, while you might worry about the costs, not having one can end up costing you more money. There are also lawyers who handle civil cases and don’t earn anything unless they settle or win your case. 
    • Lawyers can challenge evidence, and that can lead to a significant change in the outcome of your case. For example, a lawyer will know what to do if evidence was improperly obtained. 
    • Even one wrong document can ruin your entire case, which goes back to the first reason many people hire attorneys. 
    • A lawyer knows how to gather evidence, including experts and witnesses for your side. 

    How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Lawyer?

    There are a few different ways lawyers charge clients. In one instance, they charge on a contingency fee basis. This means that even if you don’t have the money upfront for a lawyer, you can still hire someone to represent you. 

    A contingency fee basis means that your lawyer will agree to earn their money as a percentage of your claim. So, if you have a car accident, for example, and you recover $30,000 in damages, your lawyer may charge you 33% of that. If your lawyer isn’t able to recover anything, then you don’t pay them. Contingency fees work only in civil cases involving financial recovery. 

    A criminal or family law attorney, on the other hand, will charge an hourly fee usually. A lawyer might also charge a retainer to agree to start working on your case. 

    A retainer is a lump sum of money that you pay upfront. Then, you may be charged more as your case continues. 

    There’s a flat fee which some lawyers work on. A flat fee means your attorney will tell you a specific amount of money upfront, and that’s what you pay for the entire case. 

    If you pay a retainer, you have to be conscious of your hourly billings because when you’ve gone beyond what you initially paid, you’ll have to pay the attorney’s hourly fee. 

    When an attorney charges an hourly fee, they may be able to give you an estimate of how much your case will cost, but there can be significant variance. 

    Some lawyers might charge $100 an hour, and others charge hundreds or thousands of dollars an hour. The average hourly rate for attorney’s in the U.S. is around $250.  

    Typically the more experienced and reputable an attorney is, the higher their fees will be.

    What If You Can’t Afford an Attorney?

    What if you have a case that’s not civil, and you can’t afford an attorney? There are some options available to you.

    First, you might contact your city courthouse. There are some courts that offer free assistance to people who need it, including when it comes to divorce and family law. 

    You can also take advantage of free consultations. Most lawyers offer these, and while you’re not getting actual legal services, it might provide you with the information you need to take the next steps. 

    Legal aid societies are found in every state and most cities and towns, and they offer free legal services to people who are low-income. You do have to prove you’re low income, however.  

    Legal clinics will usually take civil instead of criminal cases, and they also have resource and income restrictions. The Legal Services Corporation funds many of these clinics, and their entire goal is to provide legal services to people who couldn’t otherwise afford them. 

    Pro bono lawyers may take a case free of charge. The American Bar Association recommends all U.S. lawyers donate fifty hours of their time pro bono each year. Not every lawyer does, and some do less, but it’s worth contacting your state or city bar association, and they may be able to point you in the right direction. 

    What Happens If You Don’t Pay Your Lawyer?

    You might initially hire a lawyer, and then down the road, it becomes more than you can afford, so what should you do then?

    Don’t start avoiding your lawyer. Instead, open up the lines of communication and explain your situation. Be brief and just let them know that you realize they need to be paid and you aren’t ignoring them. 

    Most lawyers will offer payment plans on a weekly or monthly basis. Even if you’re just paying a bit at a time, it will likely keep your lawyer happy. 

    If you just don’t pay your lawyer and don’t explain what’s going on, your lawyer can drop your case and pursue legal action against you. 

    Your lawyer would have to provide notice to you if they were planning to drop your case and petition the court for permission to do so. 

    Being in a situation where you need a lawyer can be overwhelming and stressful to begin with. When you think about the high costs of hiring someone to work with you, it can be even more challenging. What’s important to realize is, first, the value of having an attorney on your side. 

    Second, there are resources to help you pay for an attorney when need one.

    Also, if your case is civil, you almost never have to pay an attorney up front to represent you, nor do you have to pay them if they don’t recover damages on your behalf.