Most Americans Can’t Afford a Lawyer. Here’s How You Can Get Help.

There’s an Affordability Crisis in Legal Services, but You Have Options

Average income in the U.S. for 2019 is around $46,000. About 40% of Americans say they would be unable to easily come up with $400 for an unexpected expense. Yet hiring a lawyer to defend you in a simple car crash case can cost a minimum of $17,000 in legal costs, and basic things like getting a proper will & estate plan, or file for bankruptcy or divorce can cost an average of $5,000.

The numbers just don’t add up for most people.

As a result, over 80% of the civil legal needs of lower and middle income individuals are unmet and not fulfilled, on such critical issues as housing, healthcare, and employment. And 80%-90% of people appear in court without a lawyer, in important cases such as the custody of children and child support, the loss of a home, and debt collection.

What about the free legal services provided by the “pro bono” Legal Aid organizations? Well, they are no help for the middle class. Even though many middle income individuals can’t afford to pay for legal services, still they generally make too much money to qualify for free legal services. And even most lower income people are turned away from these pro bono services because these organizations don’t have enough funding and resources.

By any measure, it’s clear: most Americans simply cannot afford the legal help they need. What can be done about this problem, both as a whole, and also how can you as a legal consumer get some kind of help now?

Solutions to Legal Affordability Crisis

Well, the problem of “access to justice,” as it’s called, is clearly not easy to solve. But it can probably be eased by greatly increasing funding for Legal Aid from the federal and state governments. Also, the structure of the legal industry can and should be significantly reformed to more closely resemble the medical industry with its various levels of licensed professionals rather than just the one (attorneys). Thirdly, innovation and progress in the legal services industry is starting to expand how people get legal help, with technology such as artificial intelligence, and on-demand lawyers who can answer questions right away.

This last solution is already currently providing real, practical options for individuals looking for affordable legal services. And for even more options for solving your legal dilemma, see our Guide to Getting Legal Help.

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