Sometimes, the people who need an attorney the most are the ones who can least afford to pay for one.
Whether charged with a crime, injured in an accident, facing a divorce, or dealing with a property dispute, there are many situations where you might need an attorney even though you might not have a way to pay.
So, how do you hire an attorney in Alabama when you have no money?
What If I Cannot Afford an Attorney in Alabama?
If you have been charged with a crime but cannot afford a lawyer, the court will appoint an attorney to represent you. The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution gives everyone a right to an attorney in a criminal case.
Depending on the county where you are charged, a court-appointed attorney may be from a local public defender’s office or a private lawyer who is qualified to handle your case. The costs of the defense and attorney fees will be paid by the Alabama Office of Indigent Defense Services.
However, not everyone qualifies for a court-appointed attorney.
Alabama defines those who qualify for court-appointed representation, generally, as living below or close to the poverty level. And they must prove that the cost of hiring a private attorney would be a substantial financial hardship. (Alabama Code Title 15 Criminal Procedure § 15-12-1 provides the specific qualifying language). Form C-10-Criminal is the Affidavit of Substantial Hardship form you will need to fill out to request a court-appointed attorney.
In some areas of civil law, such as personal injury claims, you will not need to pay money upfront to hire an attorney, because the attorney will be paid based upon a contingency fee.
Personal injury attorneys (like Siniard, Timberlake and League) working on a contingency fee get paid a percentage of what they recover, so you don’t have to worry about paying a retainer or hourly rates. If there is no recovery, then you won’t pay anything for the attorney’s services.
On the other hand, there are many areas of civil law: family law matters, contract claims, real property disputes, and other claims, where attorneys do not typically work on a contingency fee. In those cases, you’ll need to either hire an attorney or represent yourself.
If your case involves a comparatively small amount of money, it can be filed in District Court. You will be able to represent yourself in both District Court (claims up to $20,000) and the Small Claims Division (claims up to $6,000).
Rules of procedure are simple and informal in Small Claims Court and it is designed for people that don’t have an attorney. If you are unable to pay the filing fee, you may request a waiver by filing an Affidavit of Substantial Hardship.
Persons with limited income who live in the Huntsville-Madison County area may also request pro bono legal services through the Madison County Volunteer Lawyers Program (MCVLP). The MCVLP is a not for profit organization that matches persons with the need for legal services with private attorneys who volunteer to represent clients.
The Madison County Volunteer Lawyers Program assists with landlord/tenant disputes, foreclosure prevention, deed and home ownership disputes, real property disputes, uncontested divorces, adoption, child custody and visitation, child support modifications, name changes, paternity, contract/warranty disputes, bankruptcy, debt collection, garnishments, public benefits, unemployment compensation appeals, estate planning, powers of attorney, guardianship, advanced medical directives, probate of simple wills, probate of estates without wills, and legal assistance to non-profit community organizations whose primary purpose is to serve disadvantaged, low-income residents.
MCVLP is unable to accept contested divorces, fee-generating cases, traffic court cases, EEOC/Discrimination cases, or criminal matters.
If you are outside of Madison County, you can apply for services through the Alabama State Bar Volunteer Lawyers Program by dialing 1-888-857-8571. Legal Services Alabama is another organization that provides a wide variety of pro bono services in civil matters.
Legal Services Alabama assists with divorce when there is domestic violence or when parties agree to all issues, custody where there is domestic violence, custody when all parties are in agreement, garnishment, collection lawsuits, debt harassment, bankruptcy, repossession, dispute over auto repairs, evictions, foreclosures, deeds, security deposits, repair problems, termination and reductions of public benefits, access to education, wills, probating an estate, guardianship, powers-of-attorney, living wills, adoptions when all parties are in agreement and guardianships when all people are in agreement.
LSA cannot accept any criminal cases, handle enforcement of child support orders, job discrimination cases, or sue people or businesses for money.
At Siniard, Timberlake & League, P.C. our attorneys are committed to helping our community by providing pro bono legal work cases through the Madison County Volunteer Lawyers Program (MCVLP) and working with clients with limited means. We are fortunate that we are in a position to help others in their time of need. If you have questions regarding potential pro bono representation, contact the Madison County Volunteer Lawyers Program or Legal Services Alabama.