How to Get Legal Help When You Can’t Afford a Lawyer

When you hire an attorney, it’s hard to avoid letting your finances get out of hand.

If you are being sued by someone, an ex-spouse, a former business partner, or some other kind of adversary, you will very likely need a lawyer to protect you and your assets.

If you are dealing with a criminal case, the court will appoint you a lawyer if you cannot afford to pay for a private attorney. If you are dealing with a civil case, chances are good you are going to get a little bit creative.

Look to Legal Aid Societies

Legal aid societies are non profit organizations found all over the country that provide free legal service to low-income people.

While this is definitely an option worth looking into, the problem for many households is that they make too much money to qualify for this kind of legal help.

Even if you are low income, it doesn’t mean you will necessarily get legal aid.

According to a report from 2017, 86 percent of civil legal problems reported by low-income Americans received inadequate or no legal help in the previous year.

Visit your local law school

If you don’t want to spend the money to get a lawyer, consider consulting a law student for advice.

While students obviously can’t practice law on their own, several states do allow students to practice law with the advisement of a faculty member.

Student practice rules vary by state, so what you are allowed to do depends on where you live.

Many law school clinics represent low-income individuals too, and so once again, you may make too much money to qualify. Still, that’s not always the case.

Contact Your County or State Bar Association

Once you find someone who is willing to wok with you, ask if there are any ongoing projects for pro bono legal help or reduced fee help.

These rules also also vary depending on what state you are operating in and much of this also depends on how active the state and local bar is in reaching out to these kinds of clients.

Consider Small Claims Court

This is definitely not an option of everyone, for example you cannot go to small claims court if you are looking to figure out your financial situation after a divorce. However, if the stakes are low when someone is trying to get money from you or you are trying to get money from someone, and it isn’t worth taking on legal fees, you might consider small claims court.

Your home state will impact who high the financial stakes are.

Try Pricing Attorneys

You may actually find that the fees are not as bad as you think they are. On top of that, an attorney might actually give you a discount.

You could also get lucky and find a lawyer that is willing to offer you legal assistant and counsel pro bono. That’s legal jargon for free!

Other lawyers may be willing to take on your case with the contingency that you won’t pay money if you lose, but if you win they will pay money.

It is important to be very careful when you are picking a lawyer, however. You want to make sure that you are choosing to work with a reputably attorney and make sure that the terms and rate is agreed upon before they take your case.

Also, don’t be surprised if a given attorney you reach out to turns you down. It is definitely risky for lawyers to take on cases on contingency, and they need to be confident that a judge and jury will side with you and that there’s going to be something sizable awarded to you.

Still, it’s worth shopping around talking t some attorneys. Some lawyers will offer intro meetings that are free and if you cannot afford their services, they may be willing to point you in the direction of someone who is.

Represent Yourself in Court

While no legal professional will recommend that you decide to represent yourself in court, it is good to know that it is an option.

Still, you can actually end up hurting yourself quite a bit by representing yourself. Lawyers obviously have experience and expertise that you very likely do not possess. And as the popular saying goes, “A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.”

It’s harsh, but it’s usually true.

If you are going to represent yourself in court, however, there are some tips that you are going to want to brush up on.

Learn the laws and rules that apply to your case

Even though you’re not a lawyer, you are still going to be required to know and follow nearly all the same laws.

Understanding the law that applies to your case can help you understand what it is that you need to prove and can allow you to focus on the relevant issues at hand.

Make sure all your written submissions are complete and timely

One of the things lawyers do most often is take care of paperwork. If you are acting as your own attorney, you are going to have to take care of those responsibilities on your own.

During the course of your case, the main way you will convey your arguments, objections, and any other facts and information in your case, both to the other side and to the court, is by preparing and filing written documents.  If you are using preprinted forms, make sure you have provided all of the required information in the correct blanks and checked all the appropriate boxes.  If you are preparing your own documents from scratch, make sure they comply with the court’s rules regarding written submissions.

Attend all hearings and get to court early

Your court hearing is not an appointment that you reschedule if you miss it. If you need to change your court date for some reason, you will need to file legal documents requesting a different court date or get the other side to agree to the change.

If you miss your court date or are late, it is possible that the court will rule against you. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to get to court, consider traffic, weather, parking, and more.

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