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Accessible legal tips, know-how and news for anyone with a complaint or legal issue from Stephen Gold, author of The Return of Breaking Law, the book

Monday 5 June 2017

Can't Afford a Lawyer? What to do

Bringing or defending a civil or family case but no legal representation or other legal help? All is not lost. You'll find full details of what help you may be able to access in Breaking Law but here are some routes you can follow. If you've just won the lottery (more than £2 on a scratch card), don't bother.

  • Where your landlord or mortgage lender is after getting you out of your home, there is usually a lawyer or other professional at court who you can get advice from on the day and who can probably speak for you in court. It matters not that you haven't seen a lawyer previously.
  • Free help from the CAB.  Call 03444 111 444.
  • Free help from the RCJ Advice Bureau.  In civil cases where involved in a pending county court, High Court or Court of Appeal case, telephone 020 3475 8996 or for advice on any area of family law, telephone 020 3137 6935. The Bureau may be able to organise free representation in court for you from the Bar Pro Bono Unit. 
  • Free help from Law Works, particularly advice on employment, housing, consumer, debt and finance problems. Go to lawworks.org.uk
  • Free advice from a law centre. Each centre focuses on core areas which are normally within social welfare law and they may be able to give extra help via legal aid.
  • Free advice from the Legal Aid Agency if you pass a means test on debt, housing, education, and discrimination disputes. Telephone 0345 345 4345.
  • Check any insurance policy you hold. It may extend to legal representation in a dispute. You could be pleasantly surprised.
  • Free legal help from a law school or university law faculty overseen by a qualified lawyer. Google "legal advice from law school students"
  • Free legal advice from a solicitor for usually up to 30 minutes. Many firms will offer this. Google the website for your local law society (for example, Hampshire Law Society and see what is on offer or email them). You may also find details of many pro bono (free of charge) initiatives run by many solicitors up and down the country for those in need of legal help who cannot afford to pay for it.
  • No win, no fee agreements. You won't have to pay the lawyer if you lose but the solicitor will charge more if you win.
  • Damages based agreements. The lawyer acts for you in return for a cut of the damages you are awarded.
  • Third party litigation funding where your legal fees are paid in return for a cut of the damages you are awarded if bringing a claim or you are lent fees in cases including matrimonial financial remedy applications. See, for example, www.the judge.co.uk  novitasloans.co.uk  www.augustaventures.com
  • In exceptional cases, you may be able to obtain legal aid for the whole case which would not normally be available but, be warned, it is very difficult to secure. publiclawproject.org.uk may help.
If you cannot afford to pay for a lawyer to cover the entirety of a case, you may be able to afford to hire a solicitor or barrister to help you with just parts of it or just to represent you at a court hearing. Lawyers call this 'unbundling' and you can now go to many barristers direct, if you prefer, instead of hiring the barrister through a solicitor.

No luck with any of this? Take a friend to court and ask the judge to allow them to assist with taking notes and handling the paperwork. They will not usually be able to speak on your behalf. They are known as McKenzie Friends. Some so-called Friends may provide this service for a fee. Alternatively, the Personal Support Agency may attend the hearing to give you moral support and can assist you with completing court forms. Go to www.the/psu.org.uk or rcj@the psuoorg.uk, telephone 020 7947 7701.