There's no getting around the fact that legal cases cost money. In the United States, the average hourly cost of legal representation by an experienced attorney is approximately $284. To those with few financial means, initiating legal action can seem like a nearly impossible task.
Fortunately, many attorneys are willing to take on a variety of legal cases on a pro bono or contingency basis. The following explains the differences between the two and disadvantages that each form of representation offers.
Working on Contingency
In certain types of civil cases where a monetary judgment or settlement is expected, attorneys may choose to represent their clients on a contingent fee basis. This means that instead of taking a fee upfront, the attorney instead receives a percentage of the settlement or judgment amount at the end of the case. The amount an attorney receives on contingency could be as much as 1/3 of the judgment or settlement.
Contingency-based representation is an ideal way to go if you have a civil case that involves personal injury, debt collection or medical malpractice but lack the finances to provide upfront payment for representation. In cases where an attorney provides contingency-based representation, the only expenses you're usually responsible for are filing fees and other costs associated with bringing the case to court.
Remember that contingency-based representation is prohibited in criminal cases, divorce cases and child custody cases. This type of representation is usually limited to civil matters that can be ruled on or settled with financial compensation.
Defining Pro Bono
In addition to contingency work, attorneys may offer their services to those least able to afford them on a "pro bono" basis. The term "pro bono" comes from the Latin "pro bono publico," meaning "for the public good." Unlike contingency work, attorneys who take on cases pro bono will render their services, at no cost, to those who need it most but are unable to pay.
According to the American Bar Association's Model Rule 6.1, attorneys have a professional responsibility to render a minimum of 50 hours of pro bono legal services each year.
It's a good idea to contact your local legal aid association if you need an attorney to represent you on a pro bono basis. Keep in mind that most legal aid offices have income eligibility requirements to ensure help reaches those who are financially disadvantaged.
For more information about legal services, contact Baudler, Maus, Forman, Kritzer & Wagner, LLP or a similar firm.
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