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How To Find Free Or Low-Cost Legal Help

Most Americans know something about the law. Whether it's because we have had to sue someone, have been sued ourselves, or (in the case of most people), we've been thoroughly educated on the process by an endless stream of court shows and law firm commercials, our understanding of the way the system works is second to none. Nevertheless, while many of us may know how the system works, the chances that we can afford a good lawyer are sometimes slim.

Although most people will never be able to afford the most expensive attorneys out there, even the average hourly rate for an attorney is still painfully high at $200-$300 an hour.[1] That rate goes for most lawyers as they gain more experience, meaning that you'll need to put down a lot of money to acquire access to high-quality.

Not all lawyers are going to charge you an arm and a leg for advice. In particular, if you're in a car accident or having trouble related to your car (such as insurance policy disputes or liability), you might be able to find a good lawyer or at least advice for much less than a more complex problem might cost. Some lawyers will have different rates for various types of issues, while other lawyers may specialize in automotive-related issues while targeting their services toward low-income families who cannot afford the full cost.

Free legal advice
If you don't need to hire a lawyer, but are just looking for a bit of counsel related to an automotive issue, there's a good chance that you can find a few tips without having to spend a dime.

Schedule a free consultation
Most attorneys provide free consultations with their clients before taking them on. Consultations help the client, and the attorney decides whether the fit is right. In most cases, you will be able to get some ideas about what the attorney might do in your situation. If you schedule several consultations with different attorneys, you may be able to get a firm grasp on how to handle the issue yourself without having to pay a lawyer to help you.

Research legal aid centers for low-income individuals
Many organizations provide free or reduced cost aid to low-income people. These organizations are often federally funded, or obtain funding privately and operate as a non-profit organization. Many will only provide aid for persons who deal with non-criminal issues, which will likely cover most automotive-related issues.

Your local courthouse may also provide free advice, and you may be able to find some minimal help from your local police or law enforcement agents.

Ask potential attorneys for pro bono work
The American Bar Association encourages all lawyers who are legally allowed to practice law full time to provide at least 50 hours of pro bono legal assistance each year. Specifically, the American Bar Asociation states:

"Every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay. A lawyer should aspire to render at least (50) hours of pro bono public legal services per year. In fulfilling this responsibility, the lawyer should:

Provide a substantial majority of the (50) hours of legal services without fee or expectation of fee to:

persons of limited means or

charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters which are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means."[2]

The pro bono system means you may be able to find free legal assistance from almost any lawyer if you are a low-income individual seeking legal aid or assistance. If you shop around, you may be able to find that support eventually. As automotive-related issues likely won't take too much time or effort on the lawyer's behalf, there's a good chance they'll be willing to take on your case as a side project.

Find help online
Many websites connect individuals to legal assistance. You can find aid for a variety of issues, especially ones related to automotive accidents or car insurance related matters. Some of these sites include:

Avvo.com
FreeAdvice.com
LawZam.com

Shop around for a good lawyer
You may simply need to shop around until you find a good attorney. It's a good idea to avoid going with the first one you find, even if he or she offers you a good price for their services. It's also a good idea to ask friends and family. You may know someone who has had to acquire legal advice or services for a similar issue, and who may be able to provide you with a good tip on an excellent lawyer.

Tips for seeking advice
When seeking advice from a local attorney, national hotline or online source, make sure you come to the situation prepared. Before meeting with or talking to a lawyer, do all of the following:

Have any or all documentation that will help explain your case.

Have documentation that you can use to prove your current income level. Documentation is especially important if you're hoping for free or discounted legal advice or pro bono work.

Bring a family or friend with you. You may need to bring someone with you who may have been a witness to the event, which can help provide the attorney another perspective to work with.

Avoid getting too emotional. Lawyers will often be very understanding (and most keep a box of tissues for emotional clients). However, getting emotional over the issue will not help the situation. That said, it's ok to show some emotion, and this may help your potential attorney understand how much this issue means to you.

If you know you need legal help, be persistent. Use the resources outlined here, and don't stop looking until you get what you need. Don't wait until trouble gets deeper or hope that it will go away on its own. Take action, and work on your behalf!

Notes
2. "Pro Bono" . AmericanbBr.org