Many people cannot afford to hire an attorney for help with legal problems. State and federal programs, such as Legal Aid and Legal Services, provide pro bono or free legal services. Bar associations, law schools, and non-profit groups also provide free or low-cost legal assistance to those who could not otherwise afford an attorney.
Eligibility for Legal Services Programs
Legal services programs provide free legal assistance to persons with incomes below the federal poverty guidelines. Some pro bono programs give free legal assistance to certain groups, such as the elderly or the disabled, regardless of income. Some states also have low-cost legal services programs that provide legal advice at a reduced cost to persons who do not qualify for free legal services.
Bar Associations Encourage Pro Bono Work
The American Bar Association (ABA) has taken the position that all lawyers have a professional responsibility to provide pro bono legal services. The ABA recommends that a lawyer perform at least 50 hours of pro bono legal service each year at no charge to the client. State bar associations also promote pro bono work. Many private firms encourage lawyers within the firm to provide pro bono legal services.
Pre-Paid Legal Services
Under a pre-paid legal services program, a person gets legal advice on basic legal matters for a low monthly fee. A pool of attorneys in private practice provides the services. Pre-paid legal services plans provide such services as writing a simple will and reviewing basic legal documents. Some plans also cover marital issues, bankruptcy, and real estate transactions.
Trend Toward Unbundled Legal Services
Under traditional ethical rules, an attorney who begins representation of a client has to continue to represent the client for the entire court proceeding. Unbundled legal services permit an attorney to represent a client in a limited way. For example, an attorney could draft documents or pleadings but the client would appear in court without the attorney. The goal is to reduce costs by permitting an attorney to give legal advice in the preparation of a case without the cost for an appearance by the attorney in court. Several states, including California, Colorado, Florida, and North Carolina, have rules permitting an attorney to represent a client in a limited manner.
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