Kevin Harrison* One of the major obstacles for many requiring legal assistance is the obvious obstacle of legal costs – an obstacle that low income earners face daily. And when we consider the many-faceted issues that require legal assistance – from taking a new job to going through a divorce, writing a will or selling a property – there are few aspects of our everyday lives free of legal assistance and the costs that accompany them.
While there might not be a need for legal action, most contracts are written in jargon that only a lawyer could make sense of. The need for legal advice is obviously crucial but the legal costs issue remains front-of-mind.
Personal injury lawyers are known to only charge when a settlement has been awarded and that is within reach for most people. When you are dealing with other matters where upfront payments apply, does that mean that low-income earners cannot get legal representation?
Lets consider some of the ways in which you may locate legal assistance without the need to provide funding ‘up front’.
Government funded programs
Did you know that the government and other agencies employ lawyers to offer free services to the public? Since they are already paid, the client is not asked to pay for any fees themselves.
There may not be a ‘free lunch’ in the sense of having advice that is worthless, but rather some highly useful services that often use well qualified and experienced lawyers who are government paid.
Legal aid programs are great venues to find help when you are faced with tenancy disputes, employment disputes, divorce cases and a whole lot of other social injustice cases. Free legal aids funded programs are however not available to everyone, resources are limited and therefore the criteria is very strict. The first qualification is that the income is below a certain amount.
Pro-bono in legal terms may mean departments within a law firm that offer legal assistance for free or non-profit organizations run by lawyers who offer free services to the community around them. Since some programs are dedicated to specific causes it is often difficult to find a lawyer to offer assistance pro-bono unless it is a higher profile legal cause.
Dial a legal hotline
With the rise in social injustice in many areas of society, the number of law practitioners in relation to the people who need their services is low. Legal hotlines are established to offer advice and direction in pursuit of legal advice. Some hotlines are free to dial but others charge a minimal fee to finance the administrative costs of the program.
It is important to know that these services are dependent on what the person with the legal problem tells them – as the legal practitioner is not actually able to review any documents regarding the case the quality of legal advice can be very low.
Take advantage of No win No Fee arrangements
If you have made a personal injury claim such as a workers compensation claim, motor vehicle accident claim, public liability claim, criminal injuries claim or medical negligence claim or any other cases where the outcome of the case is financial compensation then it is common for top personal injury lawyers to take on these claims on a no win no fee basis.
It is standard practice in other areas of law to pay a lawyer a down payment before they take on your case but in Western Australia some of the top no win no fee lawyers analyze cases and the most likely to result in a win are handled without a down payment.
Many personal injury lawyers operate this way; depending on the nature of the injuries suffered and the establishment that their client was not the liable party, they will take up a case without asking for upfront fees.
The next time you are in need of legal representation, consider all the above options first before you resign to the fact that your low income is the obstacle to finding legal assistance. The simple fact is, it need not be and you should not deny yourself the legal services you deserve.
Kevin Harrison works with personal injury lawyers including one of the providers of convenient legal fee services as well as writing upon related legal areas of interest for those who use legal services.