What are reduced fee legal services?
Reduced fee legal services are when lawyers agree to accept lower fees than they usually charge clients. Lawyers may reduce their fees for clients who meet certain income guidelines. Reduced fees can make legal help more affordable for people who may not qualify for free legal aid but still have trouble paying for a lawyer. If you qualify, you get the same high-quality legal help from a licensed lawyer that you would get if you paid at the regular rate. Reduced fee legal services are voluntary. Lawyers are not required to reduce their fees for low-income clients.
How much does it cost?
The Rural Incubator Program for Lawyers (RIPL) charges between $60 and $120 an hour, depending on your income and other factors. In general, RIPL lawyers charge:
- $60/hour flat rate for a Legal Advice Appointment and/or Limited Scope Representation;
- $60-$120/hour for Full Representation.
What kind of legal cases can I get help with?
Lawyers in the RIPL program can help with common legal matters, including:
- Divorce and Parenting Plans
- Landlord/Tenant disputes
- Wills and Probate
- Real estate and land use issues
- Social Security Disability Insurance
- Criminal charges
- And, more.
What services are offered?
There are three kinds of services that may be a good fit for your case:
- Legal Advice Appointment
- Limited Scope Services (LSR)
- Full Representation.
Legal Advice Appointment
A Legal Advice Appointment is 60 minutes long and gives you an opportunity to discuss your legal case and get advice from a lawyer on options that might be right for you.
Limited Scope Representation (LSR)
Limited Scope Representation (LSR) are when a lawyer helps you with a specific part of your legal case but doesn’t represent you in court. You would have to represent yourself at court hearings and respond to paperwork filed in your legal case. Limited Scope Services can include:
- Negotiating on your behalf with the other party
- Writing or reviewing legal documents
- Other services that can be completed within a set timeframe.
Hiring a lawyer for limited scope also has risks including and up to losing your case and losing money. You should discuss these risks with a lawyer before you hire them for limited scope services.
Full Representation is when a lawyer represents you through the full court process. This includes responding to court paperwork that the other party may file in the lawsuit and attending all court hearings. Some legal matters may be a good fit for Advice and/or Limited Scope Representation. Depending on how complex a legal case is, Full Representation may be a better option.
How does it work?
You must apply to Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA) to find out if you qualify. MLSA will ask you questions about your household income, assets, citizenship status, and information about your legal problem to determine if you are eligible. We keep all your information confidential.
If MLSA determines that you are eligible, we will try to refer you directly to a RIPL Lawyer in your local area who practices the kind of law that you need help with.
How do I qualify?
Your household must be at or below 300% of the Federal Poverty Line to qualify. However, calculating income is complicated and many things can factor into your income. The best thing to do is contact MLSA to determine eligibility.
MLSA and RIPL Lawyers must also follow certain professional rules of conduct when accepting clients. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee of services even for those that meet the financial requirements.
What if I don’t qualify for RIPL?
If MLSA can’t match you with a RIPL Lawyer, we will refer you to the Modest Means program. Modest Means is another reduced-fee legal services program run by the State Bar of Montana. If you qualify, the Bar will send you a list of lawyers in your local area that have agreed to accept cases at reduced fees. You must then contact those lawyers and see if they can accept you as a client at a reduced fee. Unlike RIPL, the fees that Modest Means lawyers charge are not set. However, you can use the RIPL fees as a reference when negotiating with a Modest Means lawyer.
What are my rights when hiring a lawyer?
When working with a RIPL or Modest Means lawyer, it can be helpful to understand that they are not required to represent you or accept a reduced fee. Also, they are providing the same service they provide to other clients but at a lower rate for you. It’s a good idea to thank the lawyer for working with you, and be mindful of their time when discussing your case. Still you always have certain rights when hiring a lawyer.
When you hire a lawyer, you have these rights:
- Lawyers are required to give you an agreement in writing. The agreement should say what the lawyer will do for you and how much it will cost you.
- You have the right to know exactly what you are paying for.
- You have the right to discuss and bargain the proposed fee.