Want to take or have been threatened with legal action? While your instinct may be to hire a lawyer immediately, you may hesitate out of the worry that you cannot afford one.
Legal advice is expensive. Typical attorney fees range from $100 to $400 per hour, increasing with experience and practice area specialization. Fortunately, there are ways to get free legal advice. You have to look in the right place. This article takes you through some cheap or free sources of legal help.
Where to get free lawyer consultation
- Legal aid societies
- City courthouse
- Pro bono lawyers
- Law schools
- Virtual legal advice clinics
- Small claims court
Legal Aid Societies
Legal aid societies are non-governmental organizations that provide free civil legal services to people who live at or below the poverty level and cannot afford lawyer services. Civil cases include divorce, will contest, child custody and probate. If you’re looking for low income divorce lawyers, for example, you can search online for a legal aid society in your county or visit your local law library for contact information.
When you’re in need of free legal advice, call your local courthouse, explain your situation and understand how they might be able to assist. They do provide self-help programs, such as helping you fill out family law or guardianship forms and the resources you need to represent yourself in court.
Pro Bono Lawyers
In Latin, ‘pro bono’ means ‘for the good’. Pro bono programs assist low-income individuals in finding lawyers who are willing to handle their cases for free. The free lawyer for low-income families doing pro bono work will typically choose cases that serve the public good. They generally cover practice areas such as family law, elder law, criminal defense, immigration, and children’s issues.
Law schools have pro bono programs where students do unpaid work for a law firm that provides legal assistance on a pro bono basis. They also have free do-it-yourself clinics that educate the public on various legal topics, including how to file for a divorce without family lawyers or handle child custody disputes. However, you may have to register for the discussions first.
Students may also be amenable, in their personal capacity, to helping you understand your rights. However, you’re advised to seek legal remedy for your situation from a licensed attorney.
Virtual Legal Advice Clinics
Online legal advice clinics are forums on which attorneys answer questions from the public on their legal matters. Floridians, for instance, can use Florida Free Legal Answers by the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service. You post your civil legal questions on the site. You’ll have to qualify to be able to post your questions. Volunteering attorneys select questions to answer and provide free legal advice and information. You’ll receive an email when a lawyer has responded to your query.
The legal topics covered on the website include divorce, family, custody, housing, homelessness and employment, among others. Florida Free Legal Answers is useful to gain initial advice and recommendations, or clarity on an issue. To explore your legal situation and build a case, you’ll need a 1-on-1 free lawyer consultation.
Small Claims Court
A small claims court settles minor legal disputes involving amounts of $8,000 or less. It is known as the ‘people’s court’ as it does not require an attorney to file a case, and is usually preferred by those who want quick legal relief without risking lawyer’s fees.
You cannot use a small claims court for family law issues. It is concerned only with matters related to recovering money lent or owed for goods sold, unpaid rent, a security deposit, or vehicle damages due to an auto accident, among others.
Note that the court staff cannot provide you free legal advice, which means you’ll have to use a small claims court lawyer if you want to win your case.
Frequently Asked Question’s
How do you qualify for legal help from a legal aid society?
Generally, to be eligible for free legal assistance, your income cannot exceed 150% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. In some counties and in certain cases, such as those involving elderly clients and domestic violence, this requirement may be relaxed. Make sure you go through the requirements of the program and make inquiries with the organization to clear your doubts.
What do you do if you cannot get free legal advice?
If you’re unsuccessful in getting a free lawyer consultation, there are some alternatives you can pursue. You can use a lawyer referral service, which will refer you to a no-free or low-free attorney. Or you can hire a lawyer for a part of the legal work and take care of the rest yourself. Depending on your case, you may be able to find a lawyer who works on a contingency basis, that is, if you lose, you won’t pay but if you win, the lawyer will take a portion of the money awarded to you.
How do you know if a lawyer is licensed?
To confirm that an attorney is licensed to practice law in your state, contact the regulatory agency that grants the bar license. You can also easily verify online by visiting your state bar association’s website and checking for the particular lawyer by name. Make sure you engage a lawyer who is currently licensed and in good standing with the Bar.
How do you hire a low income divorce lawyer?
The pro bono attorney will provide you with a written document (called the retainer letter or engagement letter) outlining the terms of legal representation. Go through the letter, understand it, and ask questions in case you require any clarifications. If you agree to the terms of the representation, sign the letter and return it to your lawyer.
The retainer agreement can be in oral, but this comes with a risk. Representation agreements may be subject to different interpretations. A written agreement makes both parties explicitly aware of the terms.
What does the process for using a legal aid society look like?
You’ll have to fill an application that the legal aid society will use to determine if you qualify for free legal advice. If you meet their guidelines, they will make an appointment with you, and tell you what you need to bring with you to the meeting. It usually includes court papers, information on your income and expenses, and any contracts related to your legal issue.
After a review of your application by a staff attorney, you will be notified of their decision. This is usually completed in 3-5 working days.
Engage a competent attorney
Whether you invest the time and do the legwork necessary to find free legal advice, or make arrangements to pay legal costs, make sure you engage a licensed and reputed attorney specializing in the area of law relevant to your case. Ultimately, the quality of legal representation is all that will matter in ensuring an outcome in your favor and a smooth, stress-free experience.
Mark P. Melmer, Esq. has over ten years of experience in family law and handles all aspects of domestic violence cases at Melmer Law, LLC. He previously served as a prosecutor in Miami-Dade County, handling thousands of cases at both the misdemeanor and felony level.