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?Here are the top personal loan lenders of 2018!
|Lender||Rates (APR)||Loan Amount|
|1 Includes AutoPay discount. Important Disclosures for SoFi.
2 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
* Important Disclosures for Upgrade Bank.
Upgrade Bank Disclosures
|7.73% – 29.99%||$1,000 - $50,000|
|6.15% – 15.37%1||$5,000 - $100,000|
|6.87% – 35.97%*||$1,000 - $50,000||Visit Upgrade|
|8.00% – 25.00%||$5,000 - $35,000|
|4.99% – 29.99%||$10,000 - $35,000||Visit FreedomPlus|
|5.99% – 18.99%2||$5,000 - $50,000||Visit Citizens|
|15.49% – 34.49%||$2,000 - $25,000||Visit LendingPoint|
|5.99% – 35.89%||$1,000 - $40,000||Visit LendingClub|
|5.49% – 18.24%||$5,000 - $75,000||Visit Earnest|
|9.95% – 35.99%||$2,000 - $35,000||Visit Avant|