Professional services are often expensive. Consequently, services offered by doctors, engineers, accountants as well as attorneys are not always affordable.
The reasons vary. Most importantly, legal services are very time-consuming. Every situation is different and the specifics change depending on the area of law, but a typical case involves multiple client meetings, legal research, strategizing, communication with other parties, and drafting legal documents. If the client’s case requires litigation, it will take weeks, if not months, of necessary work to provide satisfactory representation.
Beyond the non-pecuniary reasons, there are also financial factors. Initially, the attorney licensing requirements limited the number of available attorneys. With time, the number of law school graduates increased significantly, which contributed to a surplus of attorneys, but difficulty in finding employment ultimately resulted in less attorneys and less competition and thus higher fees. Furthermore, entering the legal profession with significant debt in the form of law school loans compelled their need for increased earnings.
As a result, many people who need legal help do not receive it, which can negatively impact their lives. Moreover, the unaffordability of legal representation impacts the understaffed court system. Parties appearing pro se, thus representing themselves, are often unable to navigate the intricacies of the legal and court systems on their own and require assistance from court personnel or even the judges. However, the court personnel’s and the judges’ ability to provide legal help to pro se litigants is limited by available time as well as legal and ethical rules restricting their ability to provide legal advice.
There are some options that could help reduce the price of professional services, including those services offered by attorneys. Implementing and taking advantage of technology as well as outsourcing work, as long as exercised without impairing the work product offered to clients, can help reduce the costs incurred by law firms and consequently help lower the fees.
In the meantime, more straightaway solutions are needed. Some attorneys offer sliding scale fees based on the client’s income. Some law firms offer office space and mentoring programs to new attorneys who provide legal services to indigent clients. Sometimes, attorneys engage in limited representation only, assisting client with the preparation of legal documents or providing legal advice, but not representing them in litigation.
Unlike the possibilities discussed above, one frequently sought option often results in an ultimately increased cost of legal services. Resorting to online legal services in order to save costs regularly results in a need for a more expensive fix. The online legal companies claim to only offer legal forms, while the actual legal services are provided by independent attorneys working within the company’s fee structure. Unfortunately, such a very remote attorney who has no interaction with a client is unlikely to supply a legal work product that is tailored to one’s individual needs. Consequently, an attorney local to the client often has to create completely new legal documents, while also spending time, and thus the client’s money, undoing the mistakes made by the online providers.
The truth is that quality legal services will likely remain costly. However, encouraging attorneys to offer pro bono (free of charge) legal services and increasing funding for free legal clinics could help supply legal help to those in need who cannot afford it otherwise.