Attorney costs can vary widely and can get expensive. However, sometimes you have no choice; you need to hire a lawyer to represent you in court.
If you’re in this situation but aren’t sure if you’ll be able to afford it, we have asked lawyers across the country how clients can pay for their services.
Whether you have no money or just need to spread out the payments, below are the options you should know.
First, let’s look at how a lawyer gets paid.
How a lawyer gets paid
There are four basic ways a lawyer gets paid.
An hourly fee is set by the attorney, and you pay for the time spent on your case. “Overall, hourly fees are the most common,” says Monty Silley, New York Attorney.
“A contingency fee arrangement allows the client to pay only based on a particular outcome of the case (e.g., if you win as a plaintiff, you agree that the lawyer is entitled to keep a percentage). Contingency fees are usually used in tort litigation (e.g., personal injury cases),” says Silley.
“Retainers can be used in different ways. Often, when an attorney is retained on an hourly or fixed fee basis, the client will be asked to pay a certain amount upfront. This retainer is then like a deposit where the lawyer can pay themselves directly as they complete work. If there is money left over in the retainer at the conclusion of the case, it returns to the client,” says Silley.
4) Fixed flat fee
Flat fees are a set amount charged for a specific service, and they are gaining popularity.
Fixed fees provide more certainty to the client that their work will get done at a certain price no matter how long it might take the lawyer, and they won’t receive an unexpected bill afterward. However, these are usually only offered where there are standardized forms or filing procedures to be completed (e.g., uncomplicated real estate transactions).”
Silley says, “Fixed fees provide more certainty to the client that their work will get done at a certain price no matter how long it might take the lawyer, and they won’t receive an unexpected bill afterward. However, these are usually only offered where there are standardized forms or filing procedures to be completed (e.g., uncomplicated real estate transactions).”
The type of case you have, and the lawyer you choose, will determine the terms of your payment. For example, Justin D. Kloss of Kloss of Stenger & LoTempio explains, “For businesses and individuals, if it is a simple transaction, we offer flat fees. For litigation clients, we bill hourly.
For personal injury clients, we offer contingency fee arrangements where they do not pay unless we win. Typically, if there will be upfront costs for our firm, or if there is not an established business relationship, we will require an upfront retainer to bill against. Any remaining funds are returned to the client.”
Now that you know how lawyers charge for their services, let’s look at how to make the costs more affordable.
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How to pay for a lawyer with no money
If you don’t have enough money to pay your lawyer, here are four options that could help alleviate the financial burden.
The contingency fee set up is helpful because you don’t pay anything out-of-pocket.
“For plaintiffs that cannot afford to pay for a lawyer, a contingency fee arrangement is ideal. This allows them to get good representation and not worry about the possibility of losing the case while still having to pay a legal bill,” says Silley.
For plaintiffs that cannot afford to pay for a lawyer, a contingency fee arrangement is ideal. This allows them to get good representation and not worry about the possibility of losing the case while still having to pay a legal bill”
He adds, “However, it’s important to note that contingency fees are not available in all types of cases. And even if the attorney might be open to it, Bar Association rules may limit the use of such fee arrangements (e.g., cannot be used in criminal cases or custody disputes),” he adds
If your case qualifies for this payment structure, ask for it when shopping around for a lawyer.
2) Paying a lawyer with a credit card
“Some, but not all, law offices will accept credit cards,” say Silley. Most of the lawyers interviewed said that they do accept credit cards, despite having to absorb some fees to do so. This is good news for clients who need help paying for their services.
There are many with interest-free introductory periods, which will allow you to pay off your balance without any extra cost. The only catch is, you will have to have decent credit to get approved and will need to plan to pay off the balance before the interest rate returns to normal.
3) Personal loan for lawyer fees
If approved, you can have the lump sum directly deposited into your bank account within a day or two (in most cases). Then, you can pay your legal fees. You will repay the loan over a set term, along with interest.
To get approved, you will need fair-to-excellent credit. The better your credit, the better the terms. Start by getting pre-approved, personalized offers from various lenders without hurting your credit score.
4) Lawyer payment plans
Lawyer payment plans are agreements between you and your lawyer to spread out the costs over time. While you still may need some money up front, they can greatly reduce the amount.
“Many attorneys offer payment plans, including myself,” says Glenn Kurtzrock of the Law Office of Glenn Kurtzrock. “Usually, we try to get a down payment of one-third to one half of the retainer fee, and then the remainder over the next few months.”
Shlomo Z. Bregman, Esq., founder of the Law Offices of Samuel M. Bregman, adds, “Payment plans are common and available with some attorneys. Usually, an attorney who is more hungry for the work will be more flexible and open-minded when it comes to payment plans.”
Lastly, Kenneth M. McRae, Attorney at Law, explains his approach to payment plans, saying, “One question I frequently get is if I will take a payment plan or if everything is due up front. In an effort to be responsive to this question, I created a payment plan that calls for three equal payments – one up front, one in thirty days, and the final in another thirty days.”
He adds, “The total cost is slightly higher for the payment plan than for payment in full up front, which allows people to decide if that is worth it for their situation.”
Payment plans are out there; you just may have to talk with a few lawyers to find one that works for you.
As you can see, you have options even if you can’t pay your lawyer out-of-pocket.
It may also be helpful to note the following advice from Bregman, “Attorneys are reticent to take on cases where a client will be unable to pay, but it often has nothing to do with greed.
Quite simply, virtually every state Supreme Court has rules that make it difficult for an attorney to pull out of a case once he or she has begun the representation, even if the client is unable to pay on time or at all!”
Attorneys are reticent to take on cases where a client will be unable to pay, but it often has nothing to do with greed. Quite simply, virtually every state Supreme Court has rules that make it difficult for an attorney to pull out of a case once he or she has begun the representation, even if the client is unable to pay on time or at all!”
With this in mind, ask for the different payment options, but don’t openly tell your lawyer you can’t pay them.
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How to get help paying for a lawyer
If the above routes don’t work, it’s time to ask, “How do you get a lawyer for free?” Here are a few ways.
1) Public defender
“For people who cannot afford an attorney, if they’’re charged with a crime, they can apply for a public defender who will represent them free of charge,” says Kurtzrock. The court will appoint the public defender’s office to the case, and the office will choose a lawyer for representation.
2) Free attorney
Kurtzrock adds, “(People who can’t afford an attorney) may also be entitled to a free attorney in certain family court
3) Pro Bono
Lastly, pro bono (for the public good) is when a lawyer voluntarily takes on a case for which he or she does not receive payment. “For certain types of cases, people can try to find an attorney willing to take the case pro bono (for free), but those are few and far between,” says Kurtzrock.
Bregman adds, “Without a doubt, people without money are generally at a disadvantage when it comes to seeking an attorney. Pro bono services are hard to procure.”
While not common, you can attempt to get a lawyer to take your case pro bono. Try contacting your country or state bar association.
Find the right solution for your attorney fees
Now you know many of the options available to help you pay for an attorney. Similar to any other financial decision, you will need to shop around and talk with a few different lawyers.
Like any business, their offerings will vary, not only in cost but in flexibility as well. With the above information in mind, you will be better prepared to ask for what you want so you can come to an agreement that works with your budget.