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 a lawyer even though you might not have a way to pay.
So, how do you hire a lawyer in Alabama when you have no money? It will depend on the type of case you are facing.
We will review what happens for Alabama criminal cases and Alabama civil cases when you need a lawyer but can’t afford their fee.
Legal Terms to Know:
- criminal case: a court proceeding where the defendant is tried for illegal conduct (aka a crime). There are three types of crimes in Alabama – violations, misdemeanors & felonies.
- civil case: typically ask for money damages for some kind of perceived wrongdoing by businesses or individuals.
- pro-bono: comes from a Latin term meaning “for the public good.” Pro bono legal service programs provide free legal representation.
- court-appointed attorney: lawyer appointed by the court to represent an individual who cannot afford to pay their fee. These lawyers do not charge for their services.
How Alabama Criminal Cases Work
Before we dig in, let’s review the basics of criminal cases and how Alabama attorneys work.
Examples of criminal cases in Alabama:
- resisting arrest
- tampering with a witness
How are lawyers in criminal cases paid?
Lawyers in criminal cases typically request a retainer, where the client pays a small amount on a regular basis. The amount of the retainer will depend on the severity of the charge. Usually the more serve the charge, the more money attorneys will request.
How much do lawyers in criminal cases cost?
For serious offense such as murder or drug trafficking can cost you as much as $25,000 depending on the case.
What Happens if You Can’t Afford a Lawyer in a Criminal Case
In criminal cases, the court will appoint an attorney to represent you if you can’t afford one.
The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution gives everyone a right to an attorney in a criminal case.
Who Will My Court Appointed Lawyer Be?
It depends on the Alabama county where you are charged.
Your court-appointed attorney may be from a local public defender’s office or a private lawyer from a law firm like Siniard, Timberlake and League. Either way, they will be qualified to handle your case.
The costs of the defense and attorney fees will be paid by the Alabama Office of Indigent Defense Services.
Who qualifies for a court-appointed attorney in Alabama?
Alabama Law to know: Alabama Code Title 15 Criminal Procedure § 15-12-1
You can qualify for an Alabama court-appointed lawyer if you:
- are living below or close to the poverty level AND
- can prove that the cost of hiring a private attorney would be a substantial financial hardship
How to Request a Court Appointed Attorney in Alabama
If you meet the criteria listed above, then you need to complete the Affidavit of Substantial Hardship form to request a court-appointed attorney.
How Alabama Civil Cases Work
Now that we’ve covered criminal cases, let’s review how civil cases work.
Examples of civil cases in Alabama:
- Personal Injury
- Breach of contract
- Real Estate disputes over property lines or ownership
How much do lawyers in civil cases cost?
It will depend on the type of case you have.
- Personal injury attorneys (like Siniard, Timberlake and League): These lawyers will cost you nothing unless they win your case. That is because they work on a contingency fee, which means they are paid only if there is a settlement in your case. If there is no settlement recovery, then you won’t pay anything. You also pay nothing to consult with a personal injury lawyer.
- Family law matters, contract claims, real property disputes, and other claims: These types of attorneys do not typically work on a contingency fee. Instead, you pay an hourly rate for their services or represent yourself. Learn more about how civil lawyers get paid here.
Can I Represent Myself in Court?
In some cases, you are able to forgo a lawyer and represent yourself. It will depend on the type of case and which court hears your case.
- District Court Alabama: You will be able to represent yourself in District Court with claims up to $20,000.
- Small Claims Court Alabama: You can represent yourself in Small Claims Court for claims up to $6,000.
Rules of procedure are simple and informal in Small Claims Court Alabama, 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.
Alabama Pro Bono Programs
If you are in need of free legal advice or representation in Alabama, there are several programs available to help you:
- Madison County Volunteer Lawyers Program (MCVLP)
- Legal Services Alabama
- Alabama State Bar Volunteer Lawyers Program
Get more information about Alabama pro-bono legal programs here.
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.