what do i do if i need a lawyer but i am poor

by Dr. Hertha Jacobi IV 9 min read

Getting Legal Help When You Can't Afford a Lawyer

  • Federally Funded Programs. Federal grants fund a national network of legal service offices providing free legal help in civil cases to low-income people.
  • Charitable Organizations Serving Particular Populations. Depending what is available in your area, you may find a nonprofit (charitable) organization with lawyers or legal assistants on staff, dedicated to providing low-cost ...
  • Pro Bono Programs and Bar Associations. Lawyers' bar associations exist at the state and local levels, and often provide low-cost or no-cost legal resources to litigants.
  • Law School Clinics. Many U.S. law schools have clinical programs that are run by law professors and staffed by law students.
  • Courthouse Facilitators. Increasingly, county courthouses have facilitators on staff to help people process their legal claims.
  • Low-Cost Legal Programs. It's easy to have too much income to qualify for legal services, yet still be unable to afford a private attorney.

If you can't afford a lawyer, you often can't afford justice. This lack of justice threatens the most basic human needs of many low-income people: food, shelter, health care and personal safety. Legal Action of Wisconsin provides free legal services to low-income people who would be denied justice without our help.

Full Answer

What do I do if I don't have a lawyer?

Still, whether it's a divorce or you're being taken to court for something else, if you don't have a lawyer, a logical move would be to call the courthouse and ask who they would suggest going to. You think you're the first person who couldn't afford a lawyer?

Do I need an attorney if I have no money?

Frequently, the people who need an attorney the most are also the ones who can least afford to pay for one. Whether accused of a crime, injured in an accident, or facing the possibility of losing your children, there are many situations where the stakes are so high that you might desperately need an attorney even though you have no way to pay.

What if I Can’t afford a lawyer?

But if you can’t afford a lawyer to represent you in court, before an administrative agency, during negotiations, or in some other matter, don't give up. With a little searching, you may be able to find free or reduced-cost legal help.

What should I do if my lawyer appears to have acted improperly?

If your lawyer appears to have acted improperly, or did not do something that you think he or she should have done, talk with your lawyer about it. You may be satisfied once you understand the circumstances better.


What happens if you can't afford a lawyer?

In a criminal proceeding, if you can't afford legal assistance, a court will appoint an attorney for you. In a civil case, generally described as a dispute between two private parties, to get legal representation, you have to get creative. Here's how to find legal help if you can't afford a lawyer:

What happens if you lose a case?

That is, if you lose your case, you won't pay money, but if you win, the law firm will take a portion of the money awarded to you. However, it's important to tread carefully before picking a lawyer. Choose a reputable attorney and make sure the rate is agreed upon before the lawyer takes your case.

What time does the Akron Bar Association answer legal questions?

The Akron Bar Association, in Akron, Ohio, is an example of what's out there. You can call the second and fourth Fridays of each month from 9 to 11 a.m., as part of their Ask an Attorney Service, and they'll answer legal questions for free.

What is legal aid?

Legal aid societies are nonprofit organizations found in almost every corner of the country that provide free legal services to low-income people. While this is certainly worth exploring, the problem for many households is that the individual or couple makes too much money to qualify for help.

Can a lawyer represent you on contingency?

It's risky for lawyers to take cases on contingency, and they need to be confident a judge or jury will side with you, and that there's going to be something sizable awarded to you. While no legal expert will suggest you represent yourself, it is an option if you're in a financial bind.

Can you go to small claims court after divorce?

For instance, you can't go to small claims court if you're trying to work out your financial affairs after a divorce. But if the stakes are fairly low where someone owes you money or is trying to collect money from you, and it isn't worth risking lawyer fees, you might consider small claims court.

Do attorneys give discounts?

An attorney might give you a discount. Also, many attorneys offer payment plans, so that you're paying monthly instead of one huge sum all at once. Of course, you could hit the jackpot and find a pro bono lawyer, or you might find someone willing to take your case on contingency.

Do law schools have clinical programs?

Many U.S. law schools have clinical programs that are run by law professors and staffed by law students. These clinics give the students academic credit, exposing them to real-world legal issues under professional supervision. Clinics typically offer free legal services to individuals in the community.

Does legal aid help with income?

Most legal aid offices help only people with incomes below a certain level. Some programs also consider all your assets, no matter what your income. Search the Internet or your local phone directory for “legal services” or “legal aid” in your city. Most federally funded legal services offices will not, however, ...

Do lawyers have pro bono?

Many bar associations have pro bono programs staffed by attorneys who've agreed to devote a share of their time to providing free legal representation to eligible clients. You may qualify based on income or other factors, like having AIDS, being an abused spouse, or being elderly.

Can civil litigants get free legal representation?

Think of housing rights, child custody battles, immigration and deportation matters, or crippling litigation over medical bills. For the most part, civil litigants are not entitled to free legal representation. But if you can’t afford a lawyer to represent you in court, before an administrative agency, during negotiations, or in some other matter, ...

What to know before choosing an attorney?

Before choosing your attorney, it is appropriate (and smart) to find out what he or she intends to charge and then compare that cost with other attorneys. While the lowest-cost attorney might not be your best choice, the highest-cost attorney might not be the right choice either.

Why should lawyers be taught?

But it is something that they are taught they should do because lawyers believe that everyone deserves to be treated fairly in our courts, even if they cannot afford to pay for a lawyer. Lawyers take that ethical responsibility seriously.

Why was it unconstitutional to have a person go to trial without representation?

Wainwright, when the United States Supreme Court decided in 1963 that it was unconstitutional (a violation of our constitutional rights) to subject a person to a criminal trial without representation because that person could not afford to pay for a lawyer.

How many hours do lawyers donate?

The American Bar Association recommends that lawyers donate 50 hours a year to represent deserving individuals or organizations for free or for reduced rates. This is not a law (in all but a few states). Lawyers are not obligated to donate their time.

How do I find out if I need legal aid?

Start with a Google search or contact your state’s Bar Association or State Bar. Two search terms to use are “legal aid + the name of your state” and “pro bono resource center + the name of your state.”.

What is a private legal clinic?

Often, privately funded legal clinics, or clinics that are supported by grants, specialize in specific areas of practice, such as women’s rights or immigration law, and their sources of funding are people or institutions that share a deep interest in the justice issues the clinic addresses.

What is legal aid?

Legal aid is a catch-all phrase that includes a variety of free or reduced-fee legal services, ranging from general public legal clinics where attorney’s fees are paid for by the government to clinics funded by grants or private donors. There are also private law firms that are devoted to providing services to low-income or moderate-income clients for significantly reduced rates.

What does a lawyer do?

A lawyer will assess your legal issue and can tell you at the outset whether it is worth your while to obtain legal assistance and/or pursue legal action.

How to resolve a minor legal dispute?

You may be able to resolve a minor legal dispute by writing letters or negotiating informally, or in a "small claims" court if the dispute has a value less than or equal to a certain amount (perhaps $5,000). Be sure to check with your local court for applicable "small claims" limits.

Can a lawyer help you with a car accident?

Lawyers can help with legal problems after they come up -- after a car accident, for example -- but in other instances, consulting a lawyer before a legal issue arises can help you anticipate and prevent serious legal problems. Some common situations where assistance from a lawyer may be necessary include:

What is legal aid for HIV?

There are several HIV/AIDS legal services programs that provide free legal aid to low-income clients who are infected with HIV or AIDS on matters including estate planning, employment or housing discrimination, insurance difficulties, family law questions, and other legal issues.

Can veterans get legal aid?

Mentally and physically disabled U.S. Veterans may be eligible for free legal aid on issues ranging from rent assistance to child visitation matters. For eligibility requirements, check your local veterans association to see if you or a member of your household qualifies for free legal help with a number of services.

Can I get legal help if my income is below the poverty level?

If your income is currently below the national average for the number of people in your household, you may qualify for free legal help. Most legal aid clinics and pro bono attorneys (private attorneys offering free legal help) serve those whose household income is less than 125 percent of the federally recognized poverty level. The exceptions are Alaska and Hawaii, which have higher income eligibility thresholds.

Why do you need a lawyer for a contract?

Even in transactional civil matters, such as drafting a contract, a lawyer can be very helpful. A lawyer can make sure contracts are drafted correctly and avoid problems at a later date. A real estate purchase, business purchase, and/or creation of a trademark or copyright will most likely involve a lawyer.

What is a lawyer?

A lawyer is an individual who is licensed to practice law in a state. Lawyers are also known as attorneys or an attorney at law. Some lawyers are licensed in multiple states. Some lawyers are admitted to practice at the Federal level as well.

What kind of services do lawyers provide?

Lawyers can provide a wide range of services to their clients. Some lawyers handle many different types of cases. Some lawyers specialize in one or two types, such as family and divorce law.

What is family law?

Family law is law that involves family matters. These matters can include marriage, divorce, adoption, child support, custody and establishing parentage. In most cases, marriages do not require a lawyer but a prenuptial agreement should be reviewed by a lawyer.

Why is it important to have a family lawyer?

It is important in divorce cases for an individual to have a family lawyer representing them to ensure their rights are protected.

What is personal injury?

In a personal injury suit, an individual is injured, mentally and/or physically, because of an accident, defective product, or an act or failure to act by another. A court may award a plaintiff in a personal injury suit monetary damages for their injury. Civil law cases can be complex.

What is criminal law?

Criminal law is the body of laws that pertain to crimes. Crimes are actions or behaviors prohibited by state or federal laws. Crimes are punishable by fines, probation, and/or imprisonment. Usually, crimes are categorized as misdemeanors or felonies.

What to do if you have a complaint about a lawyer?

If you believe you have a valid complaint about how your lawyer has handled your case, inform the organization that governs law licenses in your state. Usually this is the disciplinary board of the highest court in your state. In some states, the state bar association is responsible for disciplining lawyers.

What to do if your lawyer is not responding to your complaint?

If your lawyer is unwilling to address your complaints, consider taking your legal affairs to another lawyer. You can decide whom to hire (and fire) as your lawyer. However, remember that when you fire a lawyer, you may be charged a reasonable amount for the work already done.

Why should a lawyer refuse to take a case?

Unnecessary delays can often damage a case. If, because of overwork or any other reason, a lawyer is unable to spend the required time and energy on a case , the lawyer should refuse from the beginning to take the case. A lawyer must be able to communicate effectively with a client.

How should a lawyer act in both professional and private life?

How a lawyer should act, in both professional and private life, is controlled by the rules of professional conduct in the state or states in which he or she is licensed to practice. These rules are usually administered by the state’s highest court through its disciplinary board.

What is the relationship between a lawyer and a client?

In a lawyer-client relationship, acting responsibly involves duties on both sides—and often involves some hard work. You have a right to expect competent representation from your lawyer. However, every case has at least two sides. If you are unhappy with your lawyer, it is important to determine the reasons.

What is the job of a lawyer?

Communication. A lawyer must be able to communicate effectively with a client. When a client asks for an explanation, the lawyer must provide it within a reasonable time. A lawyer must inform a client about changes in a case caused by time and circumstances. Fees.

What happens if your lawyer doesn't communicate?

A lack of communication causes many problems. If your lawyer appears to have acted improperly, or did not do something that you think he or she should have done, talk with your lawyer about it. You may be satisfied once you understand the circumstances better. I have tried to discuss my complaints with my lawyer.


Federally Funded Programs

Charitable Organizations Serving Particular Populations

Pro Bono Programs and Bar Associations

Law School Clinics

Courthouse Facilitators

Low-Cost Legal Programs

  • It's easy to have too much income to qualify for legal services, yet still be unable to afford a private attorney. There are programs to help people who fall into this group. Telephone hotlines, for example, may charge by the minute. Or, look for sliding-fee programs to get you the advice and representation you need at the lowest price possible. Th...
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