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How can I find help (pro bono lawyer) for a family law case when I'm low income?

Seattle, WA |

For almost a month now I've been trying to get some legal aid with my family case and called all the numbers that have been given to me but it has still been very difficult. I need legal representation. The sooner I receive help the better.

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Attorney answers 4


Many attorneys will offer free consultations, and will offer lower rates to clients with limited incomes. But doing an entire case pro bono is another matter entirely. This is an issue that comes up a lot on this site, so let me take the opportunity to address it here:

Pro bono work is an important part of the legal tradition. I should know that if anyone does: I served on the Oregon State Bar's Pro Bono committee for the past three years, and was its chairman in 2011. I have done a fair number of pro bono cases, including one ongoing custody case of great complexity. So I don't mean to discourage people from seeking out such help, and I certainly don't mean to discourage lawyers from providing it. That said:

The public often has highly unrealistic expectations for pro bono cases. People often think that if they've been injured, they're entitled not only to complete redress, but also to free help getting it. They think this regardless of whether the injury is legally actionable or not. It is almost never true.

Most of the time, a case is a good candidate for pro bono work if it advances social goals beyond the one client's immediate situation. This isn't a requirement, but it's certainly helpful when you ask.

Even pro bono cases are likely to cost a fair amount of money. This is because litigation has considerable expenses that have nothing to do with paying your lawyer. There are costs for copying huge numbers of documents, postage, hiring court reporters and investigators. There are filing fees and other court costs. There are often expert witnesses and other professionals (who generally do not have a pro bono tradition, and don't work for free). Legal ethics rules may prohibit attorneys from paying these costs unless they have a reasonable expectation that they'll be reimbursed. So even pro bono clients will need to advance some money up front.

And there's another reason for us to ask clients do to that: In my experience, people don't value what they don't pay for. A lawyer can put a lot of work into a case, but if they're working all for free, the client may get fed up or frustrated when things don't go their way, and quit, or fail to appear for court, or stop following the lawyer's advice. This wastes all the lawyer's work and can make them look like an idiot before the Court. I am speaking from experience. Litigation is very slow and time-consuming and rarely works out perfectly, and you may be free to walk away at any time without an investment, but your lawyer is not. Our ethics rules require us to meet certain conditions before we withdraw. If you aren't committed to it, you can subject us to a ton of trouble.

It also bears mention that lawyers don't have as much money as you might think. The typical law school graduate today has about $80,000 to $120,000 in student loan debt. Lawyers have to pay Bar license fees, extremely expensive malpractice insurance premiums, and CLE (ongoing education) costs. Lawyers are not near the bottom - we are /the/ bottom, dead last, in terms of available jobs for professionals. The job market for lawyers is terrible. Only 50% of new law school graduates can find jobs within the first two years of graduating law school. So salaries are dropping for firms, and many self-employed solo practitioners (like myself) make less than minimum wage. So we get a bit vexed at being asked to work for free all the time.

I encourage you to shop around. You may be able to find a lawyer who can help you. But bear these issues in mind when you ask. You wouldn't want to do your own job for free, however urgently people need it to be done.

Please read the following notice: <br> <br> Jay Bodzin is licensed to practice law in the State of Oregon and the Federal District of Oregon, and cannot give advice about the laws of other jurisdictions. All comments on this site are intended for informational purposes only, and do not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. Each case is unique. You are advised to have counsel at all stages of any legal proceeding, and to speak with your own lawyer in private to get advice about your specific situation. <br> <br> Jay Bodzin, Northwest Law Office, 2075 SW First Avenue, Suite 2J, Portland, OR 97201 | Telephone: 503-227-0965 | Facsimile: 503-345-0926 | Email: | Online:

Mary Katherine Brown

Mary Katherine Brown


Can I copy this and post it on my office door?

Jay Bodzin

Jay Bodzin


If you think it would help, sure =P


Mr. Bozdin is correct. However, there may be organizations in your area like Legal Aid Societies or government agencies, like County Assigned Counsel programs or Public Defenders that provide assistance to qualified low-income people in certain types of typical cases like family law, landlord tenant and criminal law cases (the latter is a requirement of the US Constitution, I'm sure you've heard the "Miranda warnings" that "if you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you" on innumerable TV shows about police like "Law and Order").

I would call the Kings County Bar Association, or look at their website, for referrals to organizations or attorneys that offer legal aid to low income or indigent people or for attorneys who take cases on a "sliding scale" basis (although they usually don't call them that).

I totally agree with Mr. Bozdin that you have to have some "skin in the game" to appreciate what the attorney is doing for you, sometimes it can even be as little as a heartfelt note of thanks or home-baked goods if that's all you can afford.


The King County Bar Association has this program to provide attorneys for low-income family law litigants. You can find more information on the program at

Elizabeth Powell

Using Avvo does not form an attorney client relationship.


To get free legal aid in King County, there are some options. Unfortunately, none of the programs guarantee that they will help you. There is Northwest Justice Project - you have probably called their CLEAR line - available at, and they are usually limited to giving some advice on the phone and sending you a packet that teaches you how to do things yourself. Or they can refer you to other legal aid agencies. There is the KCBA family law program, where attorneys take volunteer cases, I would definitely look into that. If you are in Bellevue or the east side, I would look up the Eastside Legal Assistance Project. They take family law cases, though I believe they focus on cases that involve issues of domestic violence.
Representing yourself is something that many people do in King County when they can't afford an attorney, and there are people at the court house who are called Family Law Facilitators who can help you fill out forms.
The other option is the Moderate Means Program which matches people with lawyers who do sliding scale fees.

I am a member of that program, and I can do low-fee representation (about $75 per hour) and I can do it on a flat fee basis, with payment plans that can be monthly. I also do unbundled services, which means you can pick different parts of the case for me to help on - for example paying one amount for the lawyer to meet with you once, give you advice and steps to take, tells you whic forms to fill out, and looks over the forms, but then you do everything else yourself. This can be tailored to the client's need. So, feel free to call the Moderate Means Program or email me if you are interested.

This information is very general and should not be taken as specific legal advice. This answer to this question does not create a lawyer-client relationship.

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