Even if you can’t afford a lawyer, Write My Rights can help.

Lawyers, to put it mildly, are expensive. Many people can’t afford a lawyer. They charge very high hourly rates, and will often insist on getting paid regardless of the outcome of a case. Sometimes, you can ask for fees to be deferred to when you win a case, but not all lawyers are into that arrangement.

Are lawyers worth it? For some cases, yes. If there is a lot of money involved, or if a big part of your life is on the line (for example, a possible prison term, or dealing with child custody arrangements), a good lawyer might be worth the high cost.

For an everyday legal problem, like complaining about your neighbour’s fence or asking your ex-boss for a proper severance payment after you’ve been fired, hiring a lawyer might not be worth it.

In these situations “I can’t afford a lawyer” is a common response to why people don’t want to deal with a lawsuit, even if they are completely in the right.

So what can you do if you’ve got a good claim, but professional help is either unaffordable or not worth it? Here’s a few tips:

  1. Be clear on what you’re trying to get out of this. Are you looking for compensation, to get someone to stop doing something, or just an apology? Think about what it is you really want to get out of this and how much time it might take. It might not be worth your trouble, and better to just let it go.
  2. Broaden your search terms. Google trends indicate that when folks look for legal information, they tend to ask it in the form of a specific question. For example, more folks would Google “How do I complain about my neighbours fence in Roanoke” rather than “Fence laws Virginia”. But either search can bring up completely different results. So make sure to mix it up. You want to learn about your rights, but also about the court process and what to expect.
  3. Find reliable information about your situation. This can be tricky. There’s a lot of stuff out there on the internet. A Google search can often make things more confusing. So how do you know if you can trust it? Try to find blog posts or articles written by reputable law firms in your area. There are also non-profit organizations that provide free public legal information (like this one in British Columbia, Canada).
  4. Ask a lawyer for a free consult. Most lawyers will give you a free phone call or meeting to discuss your case. They’re unlikely to give you free legal advice during these sessions, but they might tell you about the steps involved. Probe them for more information on each step — you’re trying to tease out what’s most important, and what you might be able to do by yourself.
  5. Consider self-help tools. Lawyers aren’t your only option. There are online services that help you prepare legal documents for cheap. There are also letter writing tools, like Write My Rights, that can help you organize your thoughts and get a professionally written demand letter that you can send to the other side before you get lawyers involved.

Everyday legal problems require everyday legal solutions. And lawyers are often just not worth it. But if you’ve got the time and patience to go it alone, there’s a lot of free help out there online that makes “I can’t afford a lawyer” irrelevant.

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