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How to finance legal fees

Loans and other ways pay for a lawyer if you don't have the money upfront.

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Many lawyers offer payment plans, which often don’t come with interest or fees. And in some cases you may be able to get free legal assistance through a nonprofit.

If you don’t qualify for any free options, a personal loan, credit card or other financing can help make the cost more manageable. But you’ll need a good credit score of 670 or higher and a steady income to get a competitive rate in the single digits.

9 ways to pay for legal fees

The most straight-forward way to pay legal fees is out of pocket. But that’s not always a possibility, especially if you weren’t expecting to need a lawyer. In those situations, you might want to consider one of the following options.

Personal loan

  • Best for: A one-time legal expense

You can generally use a personal loan for any legitimate expense, including legal fees. They’re best for when you know ahead of time how much you need to spend — like paying for a consultation or a cut-and-dry case.

You can typically borrow between $2,000 and $100,000 at once and pay it back in monthly installments over a fixed period of time, usually between one and 10 years.

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Personal line of credit

  • Best for: A drawn-out legal proceeding

When you’re not sure how long you’re going to need to pay legal fees, you might want to look into personal lines of credit. Instead of borrowing a set amount of funds once, you get access to a line of credit that you can borrow from at any time.

You only have to pay interest or fees on the amount you draw and can typically renew your credit line as many times as you want. Maximum credit lines vary by lenders, though many offer access to up to $50,000.

Compare our top picks for personal lines of credit

Contingency fee

  • Best for: Someone suing for damages

Hoping to win a settlement? You might want to ask your lawyer if they’d be willing to work your case for a contingency fee. Instead of paying your fees upfront and out of pocket, a contingency fee allows you to pay your lawyer with a percentage of the damages you’re paid.

Contingency fees are generally not available for divorce cases, small settlements, criminal or child custody cases.

Awards of attorneys’ fees

  • Best for: Someone suing for damages

Awards of attorneys’ fees work almost exactly like contingency fees. The difference is that instead of your lawyer taking a percentage of your damages, the court orders the defendant to pay your legal fees. This is generally only an option if your lawyer thinks you have a strong legal case.

Legal payment plans

  • Best for: Immigration, defendants in criminal or civil cases

Ask your lawyer if they’d be willing to draw up a legal payment plan to help you cover the cost of your case. Many have standard legal plans — and not all charge interest or extra fees. Some are also willing to accept a partial upfront payment plus smaller installments over time.

This could potentially be an easier, less expensive option than third-party financing like a personal loan if you have poor or no credit. That’s because you might not need to prove your creditworthiness to qualify, and you’ll have more room to negotiate your terms. The downside is you could end up losing your legal representation if you fall behind on payments.


  • Best for: Cases that the public might stand behind

Trying to keep costs down? Reach out to your social network to raise money for your legal fees. You’ll likely pay the platform a percentage of the funds you earn, so factor in platform costs when you’re setting your goal.

Platforms like Funded Justice specialize in raising money specifically for legal cases. However, some people are more comfortable going with name brands like Kickstarter or GoFundMe.

Credit card

  • Best for: Any legal fee you can pay off quickly

Sometimes the easiest way to pay a one-time legal fee like a consultation is to put it on your credit card. Most law firms accept them, and it’s an easy way to meet spending minimums and earn miles or points. You’ll want to pay it off quickly to avoid accumulating interest, since credit card rates are usually higher than those of personal loans. On top of that, having a high balance can lower your credit score.

Compare our top picks for a new credit card

Pro bono lawyer

  • Best for: High-profile cases, low-income clients

Lawyers sometimes reduce their fees or waive them entirely on cases that they think could generate a lot of press or for low-income clients. Some law firms even require lawyers to take on a certain number of pro bono cases each year.

To find a pro bono lawyer near you, check out the American Bar Association’s list of pro bono programs in your state.

Local legal aid office or nonprofit organization

  • Best for: Low-income clients

If you’re having a hard time finding a pro bono lawyer, another option is to contact your local legal aid office. These are typically nonprofit agencies that provide free legal help to individuals who can’t afford to hire a lawyer. You might be able to get help with cases involving domestic violence, child custody, eviction, public benefits, immigration or disability issues.

You can find a legal aid office near you by visiting Legal Services Corporation, an independent nonprofit set up by Congress to provide financial support to low-income Americans.

Friends and family

  • Best for: Smaller legal fees

You can also reach out to your relatives and close friends for help covering your legal fees. You might not have to pay interest and if you do, it’ll probably be a low rate. Just be aware that you could damage your personal relationships if you’re unable to pay it back.

Am I eligible for a personal loan?

If you’ve run into some trouble with paying off debt in the past, you could have trouble qualifying for credit from a lender. Generally, you’ll need to meet the following requirements to be eligible for a competitive personal loan:

How to qualify for a personal loan

What are my personal loan options if I have bad credit?

If you’re struggling to qualify for a personal loan, you might want to consider working with a personal loan connection service. This allows you to fill out just one online form to get connected with multiple lenders you might be able to qualify with.

Another option is to take out an installment loan from an alternative lender. While these have less-strict credit requirements, they can get expensive. Don’t be surprised to see rates in the triple digits. Because of this, make sure you can afford the loan before signing the dotted line to avoid falling into a cycle of debt.

If your legal fees aren’t more than a few hundred dollars, a lower-cost alternative is taking out a payday alternative loan (PAL) from a federal credit union. Loan amounts span from $200 to $1,000 with rates capped at 28%. Just keep in mind you need to be a member of the credit union for at least a month to be eligible for a PAL.

How much do legal fees cost?

Litigation costs — the total amount of money spent on a lawsuit — vary wildly depending on your specific situation. These are some common fees you might run into in addition to the lawyer’s hourly rate.

Consultation fee

  • Typical cost: Usually based on your lawyer’s hourly rate

Either a fixed or hourly fee for your first meeting with your lawyer, typically paid upfront. Lawyers generally require a consultation before you decide to use their services. You typically don’t need to pay this if you have a flat-fee case.

Retainer fee

  • Typical cost: Varies widely depending on lawyer and your case

There are two main types of retainer fees. Either it’s a set fee you pay into an account that your lawyer withdraws from as costs build up. It could also act as a down payment on your lawyer’s services and establishes that they’re working on your case.

Hourly rate

  • Typical cost: $100 to $400 per hour, as much as $1,000 per hour in specialized legal cases

Pay your lawyer per hour of work on your case. Rates can vary depending on where you live, your lawyer’s seniority and type of legal work. You’ll typically pay more if you hire a senior partner at a law firm in New York City, for example.

Flat fee

  • Typical cost: Varies by case

A fee that covers the total cost of your case, common with cut-and-dry cases like an uncontested divorce or drawing up a will. For example, an uncontested divorce flat fee could range from $200 to $1,500, while the fee for estate planning could range from $300 to $1,200.

Contingency fee

  • Typical cost: 25% to 40% of your settlement amount

You agree to pay your lawyer a portion of the amount you’re awarded in your case, if you win. Some lawyers offer this fee on a sliding scale depending on how long it takes to settle the case.

Referral fee

  • Typical cost: 10% to 50% of total legal fees

A fee you pay to a lawyer for referring you to other legal representation, usually in the form of a percentage of the total fees your new lawyer earns. Referral fees are restricted to specific situations in some states. Visit your local bar association’s website for more details about when a referral fee is appropriate.

Statutory fee

  • Typical cost: Varies by state and type of case

A fee set either by a statute or a court that covers your legal costs. Sometimes it’s a percentage of your earnings in a case or a flat rate. Statutory fees are common in bankruptcy or inheritance cases.

5 tips for keeping your legal fees to a minimum

Follow these pointers to keep your legal fees down:

  1. Compare lawyers. Shopping around not only lets you find a lawyer that’s right for your case, it’ll also help you get a feel for how much most lawyers charge for your particular type of case — giving you the confidence and leverage you need when you negotiate your fees.
  2. Have a budget. This seems simple, but knowing exactly how much you can afford to pay in legal fees — including extra financing — can help you weed out lawyers that charge more than you’re able to pay.
  3. Keep calls quick and to the point. Paying by the hour? Time is money. Don’t waste it with small talk and try to prepare questions ahead of time.
  4. Be organized. Clearly label and organize your documents and paperwork. Write summaries of key facts that your lawyer can clearly refer to so they don’t have to spend extra time on busywork.
  5. Ask for six-minute billing increments. Many lawyers give you a choice between six- and 15-minute billing increments. Choosing the smaller one gives your lawyer less of a chance to round bills up and could potentially save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Bottom line

Legal fees can deplete your savings and hurt your finances if you’re not prepared. Luckily, there’s usually a way to find financing if you’re caught by surprise or simply can’t shoulder the cost right away. If you can’t find a lawyer to work pro bono and don’t expect a settlement, a personal loan can be a reasonable solution for any case. You can compare lenders and learn more about how they work with our guide to personal loans.

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