How to afford a lawyer when you can’t afford a lawyer: Limited Assistance Representation

Cute asian little child girl putting coin into glass bottle in the garden

Where is the jar labeled “Future legal needs”?

One of the first questions clients ask me, once they have told me their story, is how much it is going to cost them to resolve their legal problem.

And my honest answer, most of the time, is, “I don’t know.” This, of course, could not be a more frustrating answer, but it is honest.

The problem with estimating costs

For lawyers who practice litigation, that is, contested trial work, like I do, it is very difficult to project cost even if we know the basic issues in the case and our hourly rate. This is because we don’t know what the opposing party will do. The opposing party could, potentially, be willing to settle the entire case at the first motion hearing, or even earlier. Or the opposing party could file a motion once a week for the next three years. These are extreme scenarios, but they involve wildly disparate amounts of time, attention, travel, and other costs to the attorney. The vast majority of cases ultimately settle before proceeding through a full trial. But they don’t all settle in the same time frame, and they don’t all settle.

The problem with not being able to estimate costs

For most people facing potential litigation, the problem is not that they don’t have room in their budget for attorney fees. The problem is that they cannot allocate an unknown sum towards a problem on an ongoing basis. Who can budget for that?

And yet, we are all creative at bankrolling unexpected costs. If the car breaks, we fix it. Even if we don’t “have” the money, we figure something out, because being unable to drive would mean a lot of trouble in our lives, often increased costs. I think of legal problems in the same way. Sometimes the more expensive option is to try and do it yourself. Without adequate information, it is possible (and even likely) to make the problem worse.

A solution

If you’re concerned about how much your case is going to cost, you may consider hiring an attorney on a limited assistance basis. This means that some tasks are the responsibility of the client, and some are the responsibility of the lawyer. Alternatively, you can handle your case on a pay-as-you-go basis by hiring an attorney hearing by hearing and motion by motion. It is useful to have the same attorney appearing most of the time so that they are familiar with the case, but you can hire them to write a motion, for example, but attend the hearing pro se (representing yourself). Or, you could hire the attorney to prepare for and appear at one hearing, then wait until the next hearing and hire the attorney again. Many attorneys are willing to make such limited appearances for a flat fee instead of at their hourly rate. Many can also take a credit card instead of a check for their fees. Recent developments in software and technology have made credit cards, payment plans, online payments, and flat fees all viable ways to pay an attorney.

Limited Assistance Representation (LAR) can be a wonderful way to finance a legal problem because the client remains in the driver’s seat with regard to fees, taking them on only as able and willing to do so. I represent many of my clients on a limited assistance, flat fee basis, and I find that it is a wonderful way for both attorney and client to manage their financial relationship.

If you think LAR might be a good fit for you and would like to discuss your legal needs, you can book a call with me here.

About the Author:  Elizabeth Dann, Esq. is a family law attorney practicing in Natick, Massachusetts. She is a divorced, single mother of three children who loves soy cappuccinos, plant-based food, and karaoke.

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