Innovating Legal Solutions to Increase Access to Legal Services
Legal services are not affordable for many working Iowans. The gap in affordable legal services is well documented. According to a 2015 survey complete for the Iowa State Bar Association, "the median hourly rate charged by all [Iowa] attorneys in private practice is $199". In October of 2010, former US Attorney General Holder stated “Today... the gaps in legal services for the poor and middle class constitute not just a problem, but a crisis. And this crisis appears as difficult and intransigent as any now before us.” (DOJ Access to Justice Website).
Iowa Legal Aid and pro-bono programs such as the Volunteer Lawyers Project, provide free legal assistance those who are most desperate in need, but they simply cannot meet the demand for affordable civil legal services. CLI is dedicated to innovating solutions to help bridge the gap in affordable civil legal services. Below are some of the strategies we're using to increase access to justice for working Iowans.
Unbundled, Flat Fee, & Limited Scope
In some situations, a traditional retainer may not be the best option for your case. "Unbundled legal services" can be hourly or flat-fee arrangements where you only pay for help with a limited part of your case, based on what you want or can afford. Examples of unbundled legal services are: assistance with completion of immigration paperwork, assistance with pro-se representation (see below), or for representation in a only a limited portion of a larger case. The choice is up to you.
Every case is different, but there are options that may work for you other than the traditional hourly retainer. The unfortunate reality is that every day people end up representing themselves in critical legal matters without any legal assistance whatsoever. According to a 2011 ISBA survey, 80% of Iowa Attorneys responding said they rarely or never offer limited representation agreements. CLI is trying to help increase access to legal services through our use of unbundled and limited scope agreements.
Self-Help (Pro Se) Assistance
Many people decide to represent themselves in legal matters instead of hiring an attorney, sometimes called Self-Help or "Pro Se". Some people have no choice due to financial constraints, for others it is a matter of independence. DIY (Do-It-Yourself) culture has exploded with the internet revolution, and it has touched all sectors of society and business, including the legal world. In our internet-connected world, information is abundant and cheap, but much of it is not reliable.
Representing yourself may be a good option in certain situations, however it can also potentially be a terrible and costly mistake. Every attorney has a story of a client who attempted to represent themselves in some legal matter, who later desperately needed legal help to straighten it out. As you can imagine, cleaning up a mess is not always cheap.
CLI offers a range of services for people considering to represent themselves pro se: from assistance in drafting and reviewing forms, to limited scope representation in only a portion of your case. The Iowa Supreme Court has recently approved self-help forms for divorce (with or without children), which have opened up access to family law.
The key to representing yourself is to get accurate legal advice and guidance at the beginning, before you've made the decision to jump in with both feet. For a small fee you can meet with a licensed and experienced attorney for one-on-one answers to questions, assistance reviewing forms, and other legal assistance before you make the decision to represent yourself. You may even decide that you need more legal help than you thought and decide to hire us for limited assistance in your case, or for your entire case.
Our attorneys have experience representing clients in all stages of litigation. If you need full-service representation, CLI is ready to advocate for you and to fight for the best possible outcome on your case. CLI understands that large up-front retainers are not affordable for many people. To address this, CLI will will adjust our hourly fee based on your income. If you have no income, than you may want to first consider applying for help from Iowa Legal Aid or other nonprofit service provider, however if you cannot get free help than we will adjust our fee based on your income. For example, a family of four with two adults working fulltime minimum wage jobs ($30,160 yr) would qualify for an hourly rate of $70/hour. You can calculate your own sliding-scale hourly fee HERE.
In order to offer these alternative arrangements, we must maintain a caseload from clients that have a range of incomes. If we cannot take your case immediately you can request to be placed on a waiting list and your position will be reserved. However, you should also look at the options above, as a retainer based on an "hourly" fee may not be the best choice for your case.