When You Can’t Afford a Lawyer

Posted September 13, 2011 in Uncategorized by

There may come a time when you have a legal issue, but can’t afford to hire an attorney. If that happens, there are a number of ways in which you can get legal assistance short of paying for a lawyer. This article will walk you through your options.

First, it’s important to know whether you have a criminal legal issue or a civil legal issue.

Civil law deals with relationships between individuals or businesses. Civil legal issues are handled in civil court or directly between the two parties. Criminal law, on the other hand, deals with relationships between individuals and the federal, state, or local government.

Criminal Legal Assistance

If you’ve been charged with a crime, the US Constitution gives you the right to an attorney’s help. If you can’t afford a lawyer, you can ask for a public defender to represent you. A public defender is a lawyer who is paid by the government, but works for you.

When requesting a public defender, there are a few key things to know:

  • You’ll only be appointed a public defender if you truly can’t afford to hire a lawyer. You may be asked to provide proof of your income and assets to qualify. The qualification requirements may vary from state to state, and you may even be asked to contribute some amount toward the cost of the public defender.
  • You won’t get to pick your public defender. You get the person assigned to you.
  • The quality of a public defender can vary. If you’re facing serious charges that could result in jail time, consider whether you’d be better off asking for the help of family and friends to hire a lawyer of your own choosing.

Civil Legal Assistance

Unlike criminal cases, you have no constitutional right to an attorney when you’re involved in a civil case. So if you can’t afford to hire a lawyer, you may have to put some more effort into getting legal assistance. But you have a few options.

One option is the do-it-yourself route, which has its pros and cons. It can be quick and inexpensive, particularly for simple legal issues. But if you’re not a practicing lawyer, there’s a chance you can screw things up and it might cost you more time or money in the long run.

As part of the do-it-yourself route, you can tap the resources available on Lawyers.com, including the legal forums, legal chats and ask a lawyer features. These are particularly useful when you’re just starting out and trying to get a better understanding of your legal issue and the options. Once you’ve asked some questions and gotten some advice, you may be in a better position to decide whether DIY is your best route.

You can also turn to low-income legal clinics. Every state offers these—just do a search for your area and "low income legal clinic"—though you’re more likely to find them near big cities or towns that have law schools. You’ll also probably have to share some personal financial information to qualify for assistance. A couple cons when it comes to legal clinics: Assistance is often provided by law students (supervised by a practicing attorney) and they may be unable to provide help on esoteric or specialized areas of the law.

Finally, if you need a legal letter or document written, you have some hybrid options available. When you use pre-written and customizable legal forms and documents, you’ll still spend some money out of pocket, but it ultimately costs less than hiring a lawyer. (And since the documents are all written by lawyers, you’re still getting a document that is legally binding.)

Related Resources on Lawyers.comsm

- Contact a lawyer in your area for specific legal advice, and read about Selecting an Attorney
- Need a form? Access hundreds of Business/Personal Legal Forms
- Access more information about working with a lawyer
- Visit the law forums
- Follow us on Twitter and become a Fan on Facebook to join the conversation about Lawyers.com topics online
- Download the Lawyers.com app for the iPhone or access the Legal Dictionary