Is There Such a Thing as an Affordable Lawyer?

For many Americans, legal services are out of reach. This long and thoughtful magazine article examines innovative ways to think about and meet legal needs for the poor and middle class.
News Story (NATIONAL)

Michael Zuckerman
Atlantic, The
May 30, 2014
Atlantic article

Tags: Delivery Systems, Legal Needs, Pro Bono, Pro Se/Self-Help, Technology, Unbundling

Organizations mentioned/involved: Community Lawyers Inc. (Compton, California), Rocket Lawyer, Legal Advice & Referral Center (LARC) (New Hampshire), New Hampshire Legal Assistance (NHLA), Connecticut Legal Services, Legal Services Corporation (LSC)


One of the most perplexing facts about our perplexing legal market is its failure to provide affordable services for just about anyone but rich people and corporations. In a democracy steeped in rule-of-law, justice-for-all platitudes, this lack of access to affordable legal help can feel worse than perplexing—it can feel like an outrage. Slowly, however, the system is evolving.

As a recent law review article notes, “The typical legal services consumer in the U.S. makes approximately $25 per hour, and is priced out of the services lawyers provide even at low attorney rates of $125-$150 an hour.” Those rates are well below the standard rates shown in the 2013 Laffey Matrix—a set of fee guidelines compiled within the U.S. Department of Justice—which start at $245 for a greenhorn associate.

The access problem looms large for legal-services attorneys, who receive funding to provide free legal help to people near or below the poverty line, but often find the income cut-offs arbitrary and counterproductive. Steven Eppler-Epstein, executive director of Connecticut Legal Services, points out that, alongside all the deserving poor people he has to turn away because of inadequate funding, it can be equally frustrating to have to turn away so many who are near poor or even middle class.