Trouble is expensive – whether it’s car trouble, health trouble, or legal trouble, it’s going to cost you. Knowing how expensive it is, and knowing how little you have in the bank for such emergencies, makes most reasonable people want to hide under the blankets and hope it goes away. Most of the time, the trouble doesn’t go away – it usually gets worse. It can be a toothache, a funny rattle under the hood, or process server handing you papers; you know it’s going to be an expensive problem.
The median hourly rate for an attorney in Arizona is $255 per hour. Just knowing this is enough to discourage a lot of people from even picking up the phone for a free consultation. And then there is the advance deposit, which could be more than a year’s worth of discretionary income. Some matters can be dealt with using a contingency fee arrangement (where the payment is made only after the case is resolved), but this is only available in some areas of law. Family law and criminal matters cannot be paid for on contingency. If you do make it through the consult, the payment options may leave you feeling that legal help is out of your range. You do have options – maybe more than you think.
If you are indigent, living below the poverty line, then there are legal aid organizations that can help you. But these groups rely on state funding, and are seeing their budgets reduced every year – which makes it hard to qualify if you are only *somewhat* desperate. But what about people who are working, and just aren’t making that much money? Well, since wages have been stagnant for my entire adult life, this is a common situation. You have different options, depending on where you are on the income scale.
The Working Poor – those people who are not homeless, but make under 250% of the federal poverty guidelines, can qualify for the Modest Means project. Modest Means isn’t in every state, but it’s a widely available resource. If your income qualifies (that’s an annual income of $60,624 for a family of four), you can get a low price, one-hour consult with an attorney practicing in the area you need. In Arizona, that one hour costs only $75. If you are prepared, have done your research, and have your questions ready, you can get a lot out of an hour with an attorney. The consult is usually done at the lawyers office, so you are just like any other client, getting that same level of counsel for your troubles.
After the hour consult, the attorney may offer to take on your case. If the attorney makes this offer, the representation will continue at the modest means rate ($75/hr, here in Arizona). Not every lawyer will make the offer, but there’s no harm in asking. At the very least, you can ask for another 1-hour consult later on.
Modest Means is just one way that your local state bar and legal education organization are trying to bring good legal counsel within reach of working families. And you may be surprised by the caliber of professional you are getting for this low price. Many experienced lawyers are a part of Modest Means – it’s a way to give back and to promote better access to the law.
If you don’t qualify for Modest Means, or if your state doesn’t have such a program, what do you do? There are still ways to get legal assistance in solving your problems – and dealing with trouble is a better plan than hiding under the covers. More strategies for getting good advice for less will continue in the next post.
-Trail Potter, Esq.
2015 Federal Poverty Guidelines: http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/15poverty.cfm
Arizona Modest Means Project: http://www.azflse.org/modestmeans/
The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.
- Dick the Butcher, Henry The Sixth, Part 2 Act 4, scene 2, 71–78
It’s no secret lawyers are disliked by a lot of people. A lot of that dislike seems to be linked to a sense that lawyers can’t be trusted. When something very cool – like Astronaut Chris Hadfield singing David Bowie on the International Space Station – gets a take-down notice and is removed from you-tube, its lawyers ruining the fun. Lawyers write those credit-card agreements you can’t understand. When something really bad happens to you, there’s a good chance a lawyer is involved with telling you how bad it’s going to be. They are often the bearer of bad news, and frequently speak in a language that sounds like English, but doesn’t make any sense. It’s why the line from Dick the Butcher is still around, despite no one ever seeing a production of Shakespeare’s Henry VI since it premiered around the year 1600.
Admittedly, what lawyers do is widely misunderstood, and I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind in this short essay. However, it may help if you know that in nearly every instance where a lawyer is doing something – they aren’t doing it for themselves. We defend and protect the rights of others, even when protecting that right means delivering bad news, or taking down an amazing version of a great song sung in outer space. Somebody else (maybe someone mean and greedy) had a right and called an attorney to enforce that right. Lawyers serve others; it’s what we do.
A Lawyer must always put their client’s needs above their own as a requirement of the profession. Always, every single time, the client interest comes first. If a lawyer intentionally misleads a client for profit, that lawyer loses his or her license – they are thrown out of the profession. Who throws them out? Other lawyers – not the police, not some government regulatory authority, not the legislature, but the other lawyers in the state will kick the bad attorney out.
Compare that to the other hired professionals you trust: your stockbroker can sell you a garbage stock, knowing it’s garbage, lie to you about how good it is, then make money while you lose money. Did any broker lose their license during the credit-default swap crisis? Or during the dot-com crash ten years before that? No, they continued to show commercials about how your investment advisor is your good friend. Just like your “good neighbor” insurance company – are they putting your interests above their own profits? Or do you have to fight with them over your legitimate claim for damage to your home, car, or body? Insurance wants to take your money, not give it back. Investment banks want to make money, not protect your interests.
A lot of investment advisors are on your side, by choice. A few people out there have had nothing but good experiences with the insurance provider, perhaps more by luck. But only your Doctor and your Lawyer have an absolute requirement of their license to protect you first – to protect your rights as best they can. Most people either have a doctor they see regularly, or they know they should have one. You probably have an insurance agent, maybe even an investment advisor – but do you have an attorney? Is it because you feel like you can’t trust lawyers? Here’s one more question: Who benefits from you NOT seeking legal advice? Does your insurance company benefit when you don’t call a lawyer? Your investment broker?
Shakespeare’s Dick the Butcher was responding to a plan to overthrow the government, take away all property rights from private ownership and turn the land into a communist utopia. Dick was correct, the only way to do that, would be to take out those who protect people’s rights. Remove the safe-guards, the people who ensure a fair trial, that you were read your rights, that you get to vote, that you can’t be imprisoned without trial, and that your property rights are enforced. To take all those constitutional guarantees away, the first thing is to kill all the lawyers.
So who has your best interest?
The Potter Law Firm has your best interest. We’ll get you through it.