With the average attorney charging $200 an hour or more, it is understandable that you may have difficulty paying for an attorney. You may not be out of luck, however.
First, an attorney may be willing to take a case “contingent” upon ultimately winning a lawsuit. This sort of arrangement only applies to suits where you are the plaintiff – the one bringing the suit. Also, contingency fee arrangements are not allowed in domestic relations (divorce) cases or in criminal cases.
If the attorney agrees to take your case contingent, the attorney will charge you a percentage of the amount recovered. I work on a sliding scale; I charge 33% of all monies recovered if the case settles prior to trial or arbitration and 40% if I have to try or arbitrate the case. If you lose your case, you are not responsible for paying the attorney fee. That is why attorneys generally are willing to work on a contingency basis only if they believe there is a good chance of winning.
You will be responsible for “costs,” whether you win or lose. Examples of costs are the filing fee, the service fee and a court reporter’s fee. Costs are generally quite small when compared to an attorney’s fee.
Second, if you cannot find an attorney who will take your case contingent, you may qualify for a legal aid attorney. Let your fingers do the walking and call legal aid and see if you can get representation – if not for free – on a sliding scale.
Third, if you are facing criminal charges and cannot afford an attorney, the court may appoint an attorney from either the private bar or the public defender’s office to represent you. Many public defenders are quite capable attorneys.
Fourth, you may find an attorney who is willing to work “for the public good,” or pro bono publico, generally known as pro bono. Do not call an attorney directly and ask if he or she is willing to work pro bono. Instead, call the State or County bar association to inquire about programs where attorneys work pro bono.
Fifth, small claims court is a popular way for a layperson to obtain justice. Remember though, it is not enough just to win a judgment in small claims court; you must also be able to collect from the person that you sued. This is where the adage, “you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip” applies. It is best to sue persons who have real estate and/or a job. Then you have a much better chance of actually seeing your money.
Finally, an attorney might be willing to advise you on how you can best represent yourself. You need to pay for this service, but it will cost much less than hiring an attorney to represent you in the suit. The attorney might draft a Complaint or an Answer for you, or advise you on how to assemble the evidence to support your claim.