Updated: Jul 24
Everything You Need To Know About California Pro Bono Lawyers
If you are wondering why it's so hard to find a pro bono lawyer in California, you're not the only one. If you found this article, chances are you've been spending a lot of time researching about this subject.
There are some alternatives to find free legal representation when you cannot afford to pay for a lawyer, however, you must be ready to spend a lot of time to find free legal resources as these are generally not available - precisely because they are FREE.
In our article "clients lawyers want to avoid" we discussed how to increase your chances of hiring a great lawyer regardless of your ability to pay for legal fees, here we will discuss specifically about California pro bono lawyers.
So What is a California Pro Bono Lawyer And Why They Are So Hard To Find?
California pro bono lawyers are individuals who volunteer to work for free. The keyword here is "VOLUNTEER".
Very few California lawyers want to work for free (or anyone else for that matter, including you dear reader), and thus do not work for free. Even fewer GREAT California lawyers are willing to work for free, and thus do not work for free.
That fact alone should answer the question of why California pro bono lawyers are hard to find.
California lawyers are very busy people, soliciting a lawyer with pro bono work will most likely result in an immediate and irrefutable rejection. If they do not offer it (on their website or as members of a pro bono organization), don't ask for it!
And so a lot of people falsely believe that if they need a California lawyer for any case, but cannot pay for one, they nevertheless have the right to having one appointed to them.
Free California lawyers are only the right of people who have been charged with a serious crime such as "first degree murder" (hence your Miranda rights) that could potentially result in being locked up in the joint for a very, very ...... VERY long time.
In this case, an overworked and under-appreciated California public defender will be appointed to them.
Hopefully, this isn't your situation.
Having said that, your options to solve your legal issue at little cost or for free are:
Local legal aid groups, you can find a list here.
Visit a law school, some law students will do volunteer work from time to time. It's like going to a beauty school to get a free haircut so students can practice on you (not a good idea when your freedom or finances are at stake)
Contact your state bar association, they may offer some alternatives. Most likely the same ones as option number 1 above.
Go to small claims court, this only applies if your dispute is under $10,000.
Represent yourself in court (it’s like performing open heart surgery on yourself, not recommended).
What About a No-Win/No-Fee Lawyer (on contingency) ?
Another big misconception is assuming that all California lawyers can work on a contingency, for any type of case.
No, a lawyer will never a accept a case on contingency if you want to sue your neighbor because his dog barks all night (this is a real life inquiry that we've received in the past).
The no win / no fee concept is very popular because of the barrage of TV commercials about accident and personal injury cases. In a contingency fee arrangement, the lawyer must agree to get paid by taking a percentage of your settlement award to cover legal fees once your case is finalized.
If you lose, the attorney doesn't get paid. If you win, you don't get paid (just kidding).
If you win, you and your lawyer get paid. BTW, there have been cases where some unethical lawyers kept the settlement and didn't tell their clients, watch these sleazy characters in action by visiting the attorney discipline section.
That's why you can't just hire any lawyer (even if you have a million dollars to do so), conduct due diligence and find reputable and honest California lawyers. If you need a referral to pre-screened local lawyers you can submit your request by visiting this link.
Many lawyers will agree to accept a case in exchange for a percentage of your settlement — 33% to 40% on average ONLY under specific circumstances and for certain types of cases.
Generally, California lawyers will consider accepting a case on a contingency for:
Personal injury (bodily injuries ONLY) no emotional or financial injuries apply here.
Any type of employment discrimination case.
Medical malpractice cases.
If you have any other type of case, most likely a retainer must be paid up-front to the attorney.
Other Options To Find a Good Attorney When You Are Strapped For Cash
The best and most realistic approach to finding a competent and experienced lawyer for your case is to request a payment plan. Again, this is entirely up to the attorney and he/she may consider a payment plan IF:
You are nice: You'd think this is obvious but more often than not, people will approach an attorney demanding legal help at gun point (I mean with an attitude). If you connect with the attorney at an emotional level, if you are kind, patient and considerate you will increase your chances of finding someone willing to work with you.
Be realistic: Some cases are extremely difficult and require a lot of time and effort. Again, communicate with your lawyer of choice and recognize that their time is valuable and that you are willing to work with them as a team to get the job done.
Other Options To Find A Low-Cost California Lawyer:
Ask for a flat fee: Offer to pay the lawyer a set dollar amount for a particular service, like writing a will. If the matter is very simple and straightforward (i.e an uncontested divorce or a simple bankruptcy filing), many lawyers will agree to charge a flat fee.
Offer to do some of the work yourself: Many lawyers will agree to allow you to do some of the work yourself to save time and money. For example, you might be able to make copies, pick up or deliver certain legal documents. A lawyer may charge you a flat fee for a specific service and you can do the rest.
If you are open to a payment arrangement, you can submit your request here.