You’ve just suffered an injury. Perhaps you were involved in a car accident, or maybe you slipped and fell on the ice outside of your apartment complex.
Regardless of how you became injured, you’re probably going to need medical care. You might even have to miss some time from work.
Injuries are frustrating, but the financial cost associated with an injury can be devastating. This is why most accident victims at least consider taking legal action. But can you really afford an attorney on top of everything else?
The answer might surprise you.
How much does a lawyer cost?
The cost of an attorney varies widely depending on where you live and the facts of your case. The good news is that most personal injury attorneys accept a contingent fee.
In a contingent fee arrangement, your attorney collects a fixed percentage (typically 20-40 percent) of any money you recover. If you don’t recover any money at the end of your case, you don’t owe your attorney a penny.
For cash-strapped accident victims, a contingent fee agreement is ideal because the victim won’t have to pay a single penny for legal services unless they recover damages.
Although most personal injury attorneys are paid a contingent fee, there are other types of fee arrangements:
- Hourly rate. In an hourly rate arrangement, the lawyer charges a per-hour rate and tracks their time in fractions of an hour. A billing statement explaining the work completed and the time it took is sent to the client every month.
- Flat fees. Some lawyers charge a flat fee to handle a case. Flat fee arrangements are becoming more popular in cases that are fairly predictable, but they’re still uncommon in the personal injury field.
- Retainer fees. A retainer fee is a fee that a client pays in advance. The attorney places the retainer fee in a trust account. As the attorney performs work, they withdraw money from the trust account as payment. Any amount left in the trust account after the legal representation has concluded must be returned to the client.
Lawyer fees can be negotiated. Before you attempt to negotiate a lawyer fee, it’s wise to shop around so you have a good sense of the market.
Can I get free legal help?
There are a surprising amount of options for injured individuals who need free or reduced-cost legal services. To receive these free or reduced-cost legal services, you typically have to have an income that is less than 125 percent of the federal poverty level.
Let’s take a look at some free or reduced-cost options for qualifying accident victims.
Legal aid organizations
The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is a non-profit corporation established by the United States Congress in 1974. The goal of LSC is to ensure equal access to justice for all Americans. LSC provides funding to 132 independent legal aid organizations in every state.
To find a legal aid organization in your area, use the free search tool on the LSC homepage.
Law school clinics
There are 199 ABA-approved law schools in the United States. Most of these law schools have legal clinics that provide free legal services to qualifying individuals.
The legal services at a law school clinic are provided by law students under the supervision of law school professors. Some clinics offer all types of legal services, while other clinics handle a particular type of case (such as health law or tax law).
Find a law school near you and contact the school to see if they offer free legal services through a clinic.
State bar associations
A bar association is a professional association of lawyers. Every state has a bar association.
Bar association homepages contain lots of useful information. For example, you can look up an attorney’s disciplinary history on a bar association homepage or find information about new laws that are passed in the state.
State bar association homepages are also useful for accident victims looking for free legal help. Most state bar associations have an attorney referral number that an accident victim can call to receive information about free legal services. State bar associations also offer free legal clinics on occasion.
Small claims courts
Although it’s not exactly free (there are costs associated with filing a lawsuit), you might decide to forgo an attorney and seek justice by representing yourself in small claims court.
Small claims courts are designed for people who are seeking a money judgment. What makes small claims unique from any other court is that there’s a specific limit or “cap” on the amount you can recover. The dollar limit depends on the state, although some states have different limits based on the type of case. In Kentucky and Rhode Island, for example, you can only recover $2,500 in a small claims action. In other states, though, you could be awarded a judgment of up to $15,000.
Where can I ask legal questions for free?
Perhaps you’ve thought about hiring an attorney and decided you don’t need to go that far. Maybe you just have a couple of legal questions you want to be answered for free.
Some state bar associations allow you to speak with an attorney over the telephone for free. These sessions are usually limited to twenty minutes.
You can also schedule an initial consultation with a personal injury attorney. Initial consultations are almost always free. During an initial consultation, you’ll have an opportunity to ask questions about your case. The initial consultation will help you decide whether you ultimately need to hire an attorney.
Finally, there are a couple of online sites where you can get your legal question answered by an attorney:
- ABA Free Legal Answers. The American Bar Association (ABA) allows qualifying individuals to submit legal questions to volunteer attorneys. Answers are provided via email.
- You can find the answers to your legal questions right here on Enjuris. Click on your state to view state-specific legal information or find answers to common personal injury questions. You can also ask a question on a relevant Enjuris blog post and our attorneys will do their best to answer it.
Accidents are overwhelming. It’s understandable that you’re concerned about the cost of an attorney. Fortunately, free and reduced-cost legal options are available if you know where to look.
Additional resources that might help: