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Choices if you cannot afford a lawyer

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Lawyers don’t come cheap, and sometimes the people who need them most can’t afford to pay.

If you are unable to pay a lawyer, then there are several options available to you. You may be able to get legal advice free from a law centre, be lucky enough to have a lawyer work on your case for free or for a very cheap rate, or be eligible for legal aid.

The following is a brief guide to the options available. There may be more in your area, or that relate specifically to your problem, so this is by no means a comprehensive list.

Law Centres and Citizens Advice

Law centres provide free independent legal advice and representation. They provide help with everyday legal problems such as obtaining benefits, housing problems, employment issues such as discrimination, immigration and asylum issues, and mental health. They employ solicitors. You can find your local law centre in the telephone book, or by asking at your local library.

More information is available at www.lawcentres.org.uk

Citizens Advice Bureau also provide free independent legal advice, and can be found at more than 3,000 locations throughout the UK. They can offer advice by telephone, face-to-face, via email and may do home visits. They also have factsheets on common legal problems, which can be downloaded for free in many different languages.

More information can be found at www.citizensadvice.org.uk.

Community Legal Advice is a free legal advice service covering benefits, tax credits, housing, employment, immigration and social welfare law. Help can be provided via phone, internet or face-to-face. This service is run by the government’s legal aid department.

For more information, see www.communitylegaladvice.org.uk.

Pro bono

This is the Latin name for ‘for the common good’, and refers to the tradition of lawyers acting free of charge for clients. This is a widespread practice among solicitors and barristers in England and Wales, and a surprisingly wide range of legal issues are handled pro bono. Even the big City commercial firms do pro bono work advising clients who cannot afford to pay but who are ineligible for legal aid.

The Bar Pro Bono Unit co-ordinates pro bono work among barristers. You would normally be referred to the Unit by a solicitor or advice agency.

To find a solicitor who will work pro bono, you can contact Law Works, the charity which co-ordinates pro bono work, at www.lawworks.org.uk.

Legal aid

If you are on a very small income or benefits, you may be eligible for legal aid. It is available for civil and criminal cases.

Legal aid is only available for certain types of legal problem. In order to be eligible, you must show that your income and capital is below a certain amount. A grant of legal aid depends on whether your legal problem is capable of being resolved, and it is worth the time and money to do so.

No win, no fee

These cases are also known as conditional fee cases. Not all lawyers do these, and you will need to find a solicitor who runs ‘no win, no fee’ cases.

The deal with these is that you pay nothing upfront (you may sometimes be asked to pay certain costs but the solicitor should advise you about this) or if you lose your case, and if you win your case then the lawyer takes a percentage of the damages. Personal injury cases (such as road traffic cases) are often run on a conditional fee basis.

Free Representation Unit

It is possible to obtain free representation at tribunals in England and Wales, thanks to the Free Representation Unit. This charity helps with case preparation, legal advice and advocacy in the employment tribunals and other tribunals. It is usually staffed by volunteer law students and legal professionals at an early stage in their career.

More information is available at www.freerepresentationunit.org.uk.

Other

There are many other advice agencies and charities around—too many to list.

Some examples include Rights of Women, which offers free legal advice on all sorts of issues affecting women (see www.row.org.uk); the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which champions equal rights and provides advice (see www.equalityhumanrights.com); and the Children’s Legal Centre, which offers free legal advice and representation for children and young people, and their carers (see www.childrenslegalcentre.com).

Getting legal advice

Need help finding a legal aid solicitor near you? LawyerLocator covers all of the UK from major cities like London, Manchester and Edinburgh to small towns in the countryside.

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