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What Do I Do If I Can’t Afford A Lawyer?

Q: If a skinny lawyer and a fat lawyer jump out of an airplane without a parachute at the same time, which one will hit the ground first?

A: Who cares?

Of course, neither probably hits the ground because they both found a loophole in the law of gravity.

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” -William Shakespeare.

Q: Why don’t lawyers play hide-and-seek?

A: Because nobody would look for them.

The page-a-day calendar on my desk contains365 lawyer jokes and quotes about lawyers like the one from Mr. Shakespeare above. There are dozens of books out there devoted to unflattering lawyer jokes. People moan and complain about lawyers all the time. It is clear that very few people out there like lawyers.

Until they need one. Almost everyone at some point in their lives will need a lawyer. You likely need a will to make sure your assets go to where you want them to go when you die, and a lawyer will need to draft it. You might have received a speeding ticket, or been arrested and need help. Your landlord may be trying to evict you, or your mortgage company may be trying to foreclose. The problem for many individuals who find themselves in these situations is the cost of legal services.

Fortunately, there are solutions to this problem. If your legal problem deals with a criminal issue, you may be eligible for a court appointed attorney. If your legal problem deals with the areas of consumer law, education (e.g., school discipline or student’s rights), employment law, family law, health law (e.g., Medicaid, health insurance problems), housing issues, or income maintenance (e.g., food stamps), then you may be eligible to receive assistance from Legal Aid.

For those injured by the negligence of others, contingency fees offer a solution that allows you to retain legal help. Almost all personal injury attorneys who represent negligence victims, including this firm, operates on a contingency fee basis.  A contingency fee is a percentage of the recovery obtained for the client, and often ranges between twenty-five percent and forty percent. The fee is not taken until the end of the case.  If no recovery is obtained for the client, then there is no fee owed.

Many people criticize contingency fees arguing that they promote “frivolous” litigation. Now, does that argument make sense? Why would a law firm, which is a for profit business, handle a truly frivolous lawsuit and face a very high probability of not getting paid for the hours upon hours of work they put into the case?  I submit that they wouldn’t.

What these critics overlook  is the purpose of the contingency fee. The contingency fee system is an important element of America’s legal system because without it, only the wealthy would have the means to hire an attorney to seek compensation for their injuries. Unlike the large, powerful insurance companies who have the financial resources to keep defense firms on a regular retainer, very few ordinary people could afford the thousands of dollars that would otherwise be needed to retain legal services at an hourly rate, and to then also pay the costs of investigating and litigating a claim.

Why should those suffering from injuries at the hands of another be left without justice simply because they cannot afford justice? When we have a logical and good answer to that question, only then can we talk about the (perceived) evils of contingency fees.

Disclaimer: The views of the author are his own. Nothing in this post should be construed as legal advice. The author, even though he is a lawyer, understands that people enjoy lawyer jokes. He even enjoys a few himself. However, it is important to remember that you should not tell lawyer jokes. Most lawyers do not find them funny, and most regular people do not think they are jokes.

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