4 Ways to Get Legal Assistance When You Don’t Have the Money

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There’s a good chance you’ll end up needing a lawyer at some point in your life. Whether they’re handling debt collection issues or crafting prenuptial agreements, lawyers can be immensely helpful — but expensive.

If you have a legal issue and don’t know how to pay for legal fees, here’s everything you need to know about legal representation and financial assistance.

Why effective legal representation is so important

It’s no wonder people try to avoid hiring a lawyer whenever they can. According to Clio, a legal industry resource, the average billable hour rate for a lawyer in the U.S. is $260.

MacKenzie Dunham, a public interest lawyer and the founder and executive director of Access Justice Houston, said the high cost of legal help is a major issue.

“Not being able to afford a lawyer is a huge problem in our legal community,” said Dunham. “It’s a sad fact of life that most people simply cannot afford the cost of litigation due to various reasons.”

Despite the cost, having effective legal representation is essential to your financial well-being.

Good legal advice can help you get through difficult situations, such as an ugly divorce, a dispute with a landlord, or an arrest. The legal system is incredibly complex. Navigating the paperwork, procedures, and court system can be overwhelming for the average person.

An experienced lawyer can handle it for you and increase the likelihood of a positive outcome. Without one, you could lose your assets or face stiff penalties. In some cases, you simply can’t afford to go without a lawyer.

How to pay for legal fees on a budget

Hiring a lawyer is necessary in many legal situations. However, you might not need to come up with hundreds or thousands of dollars all at once. If you’re short on cash, you might be able to use the following options.

1. Find an attorney willing to work pro bono

Although it might not seem possible, you can get free legal help. According to the American Bar Association (ABA), lawyers have a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those who can’t afford to pay. The ABA urges lawyers to perform 50 hours of pro bono, or free, services each year.

Although it isn’t a strict requirement, many lawyers aspire to reach that goal. Some law firms even have structured pro bono programs to connect low-income clients with lawyers looking to complete their 50-hour service term.

To find free legal help near you, use the ABA’s pro bono directory.

2. Contact your local legal aid office or a nonprofit organization

If you don’t qualify for free legal assistance, don’t give up. Other resources are available.

“Try your local legal aid provider first,” said Dunham. “Check if there are any sliding-scale law firms in your area. These nonprofits offer severely reduced rates for legal services based on your income. So, if you make less, you pay less. Then, look to see if the local bar association has a reduced-fee lawyer referral service to find a lawyer that you might be able to afford.”

Dunham recommended that people use Open Legal Services to find nonprofit law firms throughout the country.

3. Ask if your lawyer offers payment plans

If you have to pay for a lawyer out of pocket and don’t qualify for low-cost options, ask your lawyer about a payment plan. Some firms offer payment plans that spread out your costs over several months, making the payments more affordable.

Not all law firms offer payment plans, but it’s a good idea to check before turning to other financing options.

4. Apply for a personal loan

Going into debt is never a great idea, but sometimes borrowing money is better than the alternative. That can be the case when it comes to legal issues.

If you have a legal matter and could lose money or face severe consequences, one option to consider is applying for a personal loan. With a personal loan, you can borrow the money you need to hire a lawyer right away and then pay it back over several years, giving you a more manageable monthly payment.

If you don’t have good credit and a stable income, you could face high interest rates. However, you could qualify for a low-interest personal loan by having a cosigner on your application.

A cosigner is someone with excellent credit and a steady income who guarantees the loan. If you fall behind on the payments, the cosigner is responsible for making them instead. Having a cosigner reduces the risk to the lender, so it’s more likely to issue you a loan, and you could qualify for a lower rate than if you had applied on your own.

Finding legal assistance

If you’re facing a lawsuit or criminal matter and don’t know how to pay for legal fees, remember that you have several options to get the help you need. From low-cost law firms to personal loans, there are financing options available to ensure you can hire proper legal representation.

Interested in a personal loan?

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Advertiser Disclosure

Student Loan Hero Advertiser Disclosure

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.

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1 Includes AutoPay discount. Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Fixed rates from 5.99% APR to 17.88% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 6.49% APR to 14.70% APR (with AutoPay). SoFi rate ranges are current as of November 4, 2019 and are subject to change without notice. Not all rates and amounts available in all states. See Personal Loan eligibility details. Not all applicants qualify for the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, to qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. Your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including evaluation of your credit worthiness, years of professional experience, income and other factors. See APR examples and terms. Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at 14.95%. Lowest variable rate of 6.49% APR assumes current 1-month LIBOR rate of 1.81% plus 3.08% margin minus 0.25% AutoPay discount. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account.
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  4. If you lose your job through no fault of your own, you may apply for Unemployment Protection. SoFi will suspend your monthly SoFi loan payments and provide job placement assistance during your forbearance period. Interest will continue to accrue and will be added to your principal balance at the end of each forbearance period, to the extent permitted by applicable law. Benefits are offered in three month increments, and capped at 12 months, in aggregate, over the life of the loan. To be eligible for this assistance you must provide proof that you have applied for and are eligible for unemployment compensation, and you must actively work with our Career Advisory Group to look for new employment. If the loan is co-signed the unemployment protection applies where both the borrower and cosigner lose their job and meet conditions.
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  1. To qualify, a borrower must (i) be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident; (ii) reside in a state where OppLoans operates; (iii) have direct deposit; (iv) meet income requirements; (v) be 18 years of age (19 in Alabama); and, (vi) meet verification standards.
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* Personal loans made through Upgrade feature APRs of 6.98%-35.89%. All personal loans have a 1.5% to 6% origination fee, which is deducted from the loan proceeds. Lowest rates require Autopay and paying off a portion of existing debt directly. For example, if you receive a $10,000 loan with a 36-month term and a 17.98% APR (which includes a 14.32% yearly interest rate and a 5% one-time origination fee), you would receive $9,500 in your account and would have a required monthly payment of $343.33. Over the life of the loan, your payments would total $12,359.97. The APR on your loan may be higher or lower and your loan offers may not have multiple term lengths available. Actual rate depends on credit score, credit usage history, loan term, and other factors. Late payments or subsequent charges and fees may increase the cost of your fixed rate loan. There is no fee or penalty for repaying a loan early. Personal loans issued by WebBank, Member FDIC.

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