Affordable Legal Aid

A private attorney charges high hourly rates or significant flat fees. He or she also requires sizable retainers for larger cases. A pro bono attorney and/or public defender are assigned for free when specific eligibility requirements in criminal cases are met. What do people do when they need legal representation or guidance in a non-criminal matter but cannot afford it?

Civil legal aid helps low to middle income clients afford the legal services and representation needed. Cases accepted by legal aid attorneys are often commonplace litigation scenarios, albeit ones happening to clients experiencing financial hardship or an inability to achieve a civil/legal goal without adequate representation. A core tenet of U.S. legal aid services is to ensure all people receive fair and equal treatment when engaged in the justice system. An average of 9.2 percent of Americans are projected to live at or below the poverty line in 2020, provided effective pandemic response polices are successfully engaged. That percentage is projected to be 3.4 percent higher if and when pandemic response policies are discontinued or run out of funds.


Legal aid services were operational long before COVID-19 hit the United States. The novel coronavirus added additional medical, social, financial and cultural stress, but these things all existed in 2019 and earlier. Legal aid services were available to help then and will continue to be going forward. Read on to learn more about affordable legal aid, what it costs and how to qualify. 

Average Cost of Hiring a Private Lawyer

The average cost of hiring a private lawyer varies based on his or her years of experience, success rate and type of law practiced. Newer lawyers recently having passed the bar examination might charge $100 per hour. More experienced and successful lawyers can charge $400 per hour and above. Flat fees and retainers can also apply.

Some cases are larger and require more research and billable hours. Retainers for such cases can be tens of thousands of dollars. Retainers for more high profile cases can cost in the hundreds of thousands. Retainers for common civil cases are more likely to be in the thousands, which is still far above what most low to middle income clients can afford. 

Flat fees are sometimes charged in place of hourly rates. Flat fees are common when drafting contracts, cease and desist orders, custody agreements, formal complaints and divorce papers. The amount of each flat fee depends on the attorney charging it and how many document pages are being drafted and/or negotiated. Flat fees do not always cover all expenses due, and additional court costs and expenses may apply. 

Civil Legal Aid vs. Criminal Defense

The sixth amendment guarantees all U.S. citizens the constitutional right to legal representation in criminal cases potentially resulting in jail time, provided income requirements are met. Courts assign public defenders to defendants who request an attorney but cannot afford to pay for one. There is no charge to the client for the lawyer’s services. Court costs, fines and other nominal expenses may be applied, however.

Civil legal aid is different than pro bono services. Civil legal aid deals with non-criminal aspects of law. Much legal aid is also free, but some expenses are still billed, albeit at significantly reduced rates based on a sliding scale income chart.                                                  

Types of Legal Aid Cases

Legal aid services address a variety of civil issues. Legal aid attorneys help represent clients in housing and welfare discrimination cases. People living in section8 housing where pipes burst or toxic mold forms can potentially qualify for legal aid if landlords refuse to fix the issues. Disability cases frequently qualify for legal aid services, as do certain child custody and domestic abuse scenarios. Other types of legal aid cases can include:

  • Veterans rights

  • Senior fraud victims

  • Immigration status

  • Unlawful evictions

  • Consumer rights violations

  • Education discrimination

  • Unlawful termination

  • Sexual harassment

Legal aid services do not address automobile accident cases or most personal injuries. They also cannot address medical malpractice suits or traffic citation/violation issues. Legal aid services can include DUI offenses. Private DUI attorneys charge an average of $700 into the multi-thousands of dollars depending on the lawyer and state. Being assigned a pro bono or legal aid attorney for a DUI offense can be the difference between going to jail and not.

Qualifying for Legal Aid

Civil legal aid services are non-profit services funded by government monies, taxpayer dollars and surplus profits from more lucrative cases. Funds are limited and the demand for legal aid services exceeds the available supply. This means people experiencing more severe financial hardship are served before those with even slightly more affluence. Still, many qualifying clients receive limited services or basic guidance

Qualifying for legal aid is largely based on household income. The standard qualifying household income in most states is usually 125 percent or less than the federal poverty level. People who qualify for other public assistance programs such as Medicaid, SNAP, SSI, SSDI and cash assistance frequently also qualify for legal aid services. These programs are not necessarily contingent upon one another, but qualifying income levels for all of them can be similar or the same. To find legal aid offices and apply in your state, please visit the Legal Services Corporation government website and enter your relevant search criteria. 

Benefits of Hiring a Legal Aid Lawyer

Most people representing themselves in court fail. Court, hearing and trial systems are full of intricate nuances and verbiage. These are all best left to be navigated by experienced, educated attorneys. Legal aid lawyers handle many tasks on your behalf. Attorneys also assist in gathering, filling out, filing and submitting all necessary paperwork. Additional benefits of hiring a legal aid lawyer include:

  • Training you in court etiquette.

  • Requesting and scheduling hearing dates.

  • Engaging in proven strategies to win your case.

  • Negotiating settlement compensation on your behalf.

  • Keeping you apprised of timelines and expected case length.

  • Guiding you pursuant to receiving applicable medical, travel and other expense reimbursements.