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Affordable Lawyers

Affordability is a highly relative term. However, the term “affordable attorney” generally refers to the fact that the attorney charges less for their services than what comparable attorneys would charge for theirs. It is important to note that affordable lawyers are not the same as pro bono lawyers

Simply put, pro bono lawyers offer free legal help, while affordable attorneys do not. An affordable lawyer will still charge something for their services, but at a much lower rate than usual. However, a pro bono attorney is essentially a volunteer attorney, and will take a case at no charge to the individual seeking legal assistance. 

A person may be able to obtain free legal advice from a number of places. Some common examples of this include:

  • Free legal websites;
  • Free legal hotlines located in their state;
  • Local legal aid societies;
  • Court websites;
  • State or local bar association websites;
  • Legal clinics hosted by law schools in their state; and
  • Various other resources, such as obtaining free legal advice from the public library.

It is important to note that some of these sources may not be able to answer all of a person’s legal questions. This is largely due to special ethical and professional rules which must be adhered to by lawyers and those providing legal advice. Generally speaking, most cannot provide actual legal advice; rather, they can offer free legal information, such as where to find a particular court form or something of the like.

Because of this, if a person needs actual legal advice or representation when they cannot afford to pay for a lawyer, they could be eligible to get a lawyer for free. Qualification depends on specific guidelines which are enacted by the state in which they reside. 

Generally speaking, social justice claims are brought under the idea that every person deserves equal political, social, and economical opportunities. As such, these claims frequently address issues that involve:

  • Sexual harassment in the workplace;
  • Domestic violence;
  • Freedom of speech and/or religion;
  • Discrimination in housing and/or employment; and
  • Healthcare and/or medical treatment. 

As these claims are intended to impact more than just a single person, individuals may be able to find a law firm or other organization that has an interest in their particular social justice issue to represent them pro bono. Cases taken on a pro bono basis are generally worked on either for free, or with a reduced fee.

How Lawyers Determine Their Price

In the United States, the average lawyer charges between $150 - $300 per hour. It is important to note that lawyer consultation or assistance rates will vary based on a wide variety of factors, including:

  • The area of practice, as in criminal vs. civil injury;
  • The complexity of the case;
  • The years of experience that the attorney brings; and
  • Location of the attorney’s principal office. An example of this would be how a lawyer in New York City will most likely charge more than a lawyer working in a more rural location.

There are many different ways in which an attorney may bill their clients:

  • Hourly Fees: The attorney charges based on the amount of hours of work they will put into your specific case. This is the most common type of fee structure, and it is used in both civil and criminal cases;

  • Flat Fees: This is an overall charge, and is paid up front for the entirety of the legal representation. Flat fees are usually utilized when the legal services rendered are much more predictable, such as in criminal cases. Flat fee attorneys will outline all of the charges associated with a case up front in the flat fee agreement executed between themselves and their client. It is important to note that sometimes a flat fee agreement may contain a clause that switches the contract to an hourly fee agreement, if the case becomes more complicated. 

    • For example, an attorney may utilize a flat fee agreement for an uncontested divorce case ( i.e. where both parties agree with the divorce and the division of marital property), but if the uncontested case turns contested (i.e. the parties no longer agree), then the flat fee agreement may turn into an hourly case. It is important to discuss the flat fee agreement upfront with your attorney. Important discussion matters should include whether or not there is an hourly fee clause, and whether or not any portion of the fee paid is refundable;

  • Retainer Fee: This is essentially a downpayment when the lawyer is charging an hourly rate. The client deposits their money into the lawyer’s trust account, and the lawyer will deduct fees from the account as the services are completed. Any remaining funds are generally refundable to the client; however, it is important to clarify this fact with the attorney before agreeing to this fee structure; and/or

  • Statutory Fee: A statutory fee is a fixed fee, determined by law or statute. There are some specific types of legal work which require the court to approve the fee.

A contingency fee, or contingent fee, means that your attorney will not charge a specific amount. Rather, they will earn a percentage of the judgment if any is awarded. Most contingent fees are one-third of the judgment or settlement amount. Thus, if you are awarded a sum of $90,000, your lawyer will be entitled to one third of the amount, or $30,000. This percentage can be negotiated between you and your attorney, depending on the type of claim. However, some types of cases prohibit contingent fees, such as divorce cases.

Another type of fee arrangement is an attorney subscription service. An attorney subscription service is sometimes offered through an individual’s employment, but may also be acquired by an individual subscribing to the legal service supplier. In short, an attorney subscription service is a legal fee model where a client pays a monthly or yearly fee, which then allows them to retain an attorney. This is most often done through the network of attorneys provided by the service, for a reduced or no fee. 

There are numerous benefits associated with attorney subscription services, including:

  • The subscription service will allow a subscriber to have an attorney or law firm on retainer, allowing that individual to contract with the attorney as needed;

  • The attorneys in-network will offer a lower rate to the subscribers of the attorney subscription service. For example, an attorney’s normal hourly rate may be $300/hour, but their contract rate for subscribers of the attorney subscription may only be $100/hour;

  • Oftentimes clients that are subscribed to the attorney subscription service will be prioritized over private clients, once legal services are begun; and 

  • Attorney subscription services provide otherwise expensive attorney services at a lower or more affordable price. For example, a typical simple estate planning service, i.e. drafting a will, would typically cost a flat fee of around $600 to $1,000. However, an attorney subscription service may offer one simple estate planning service to its subscribers at no cost to the subscriber, other than the monthly or annual fee. 

There is a common misconception that attorney’s services are unaffordable for most people. However, this is not always true. As can bee seen, there are numerous factors that go into calculating an attorney’s fees or hourly rates. For example, newer attorneys may charge a lower rate than more experienced attorneys. 

Additionally, choosing a different fee arrangement, such as a flat fee over an hourly fee agreement, may provide savings to a prospective client. Finally, there are legal insurance or attorney subscription services that may also be great options for individuals seeking more affordable access to legal services. 

Is It Better To Not Have An Attorney? What Are The Benefits Of Hiring A New Attorney?

Obviously, costs associated with legal representation are one of the biggest deterrents to obtaining that representation. You do have the option to defend yourself in court (i.e. appearing “pro se,” or “on one’s own behalf). However, by doing so, you are more susceptible to losing your case. If you were to defend yourself in a criminal case, you could also risk facing jail time. For a personal injury case, you could also face paying a considerably large sum of money to the other party.

Because the cost of hiring an attorney can be unpredictable, you may consider hiring a newly licensed attorney, or an attorney with a new practice. Although new lawyers may be inexperienced in terms of field experience, any lawyer that has passed the bar exam in their state is qualified and able to navigate the law.

Additionally, new lawyers are determined to establish themselves in the business. And, they can be knowledgeable about a wide variety of law due to the fact that they recently graduated from law school and took the bar exam. A new lawyer can focus on your case unlike a seasoned attorney, who is dividing their time between multiple cases. New attorneys may be willing to offer a lower fee in exchange for experience.

How To Find An Affordable Lawyer

In addition to the methods previously mentioned, here are some suggestions to help you find an affordable lawyer:

  1. Manage Your Expectations. While it is imperative to avoid underestimating the skills of a new or low-cost attorney, it is also important to manage your expectations. They may be unable to get back to you right away, or take every call for every concern you may have. This is most likely due to the fact that they are working solo, whereas a more costly attorney has employed assistants to handle various aspects of your case;

  2. Keep In Mind That An Affordable Attorney Is Better Than No Attorney. As previously mentioned, your chances of success increase when you are represented by an attorney. This is especially true if your legal issue is complex. If you are being offered a free attorney, such as a court appointed attorney, you should accept the offer as having some form of legal representation is better than having none at all. Cost does not necessarily equate experience and knowledge;  and

  3. Get Help As Soon As Possible. There are many factors which will complicate your ability to obtain an attorney. As soon as you think you may need legal advice, you should begin your search. LegalMatch is free and dedicated to helping every person find an affordable lawyer. Present your case and within minutes, you can assess a lawyer’s profile. You can meet up with the attorneys matched to your case in order to find out which one is right for you.

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