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Loans and financing options to pay for a lawyer

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Lawyers’ fees run high and can add up quickly. In many cases, you may need to pay for your lawyer’s retainer fee upfront, which can run into the thousands of dollars. If you need a lawyer and have no money, you may want to consider a personal loan.

The right loan provider offers enough funds to cover your legal expenses with rates and terms that fit your monthly budget. Since personal loans are one of the more expensive ways to pay for a lawyer, we also include free options like a contingency fee or legal payment plan before you apply.

These lenders offer funds you can use to cover the cost of a lawyer. Comparing options to find the best fit for a legal loan.

Name Product Filter Values APR Min. credit score Loan amount
Upstart personal loans
Finder Score: 4.2 / 5: ★★★★★
Upstart personal loans
7.80% to 35.99%
$1,000 to $50,000
This service looks beyond your credit score to get you a competitive-rate personal loan.
SoFi personal loans
Finder Score: 4.4 / 5: ★★★★★
SoFi personal loans
8.99% to 29.99%
$5,000 to $100,000
A highly-rated lender with competitive rates, high loan amounts and no required fees.
Best Egg personal loans
Finder Score: 3.8 / 5: ★★★★★
Best Egg personal loans
8.99% to 35.99%
$2,000 to $50,000
Fast and easy personal loan application process. See options first without affecting your credit score.
Finder Score: 4 / 5: ★★★★★
8.49% to 35.99%
$1,000 to $50,000
Check your rates with this online lender without impacting your credit score.
LendingPoint personal loans
Finder Score: 3.3 / 5: ★★★★★
LendingPoint personal loans
7.99% to 35.99%
$2,000 to $36,500
Get a personal loan with reasonable rates even if you have a fair credit score in the 600s.
Happy Money
Finder Score: 3.8 / 5: ★★★★★
Happy Money
11.72% to 24.50%
$5,000 to $40,000
Pay down your debt with a fixed APR and predictable monthly payments.

Eligibility requirements for a personal loan

These factors may impact your ability to get a loan for a lawyer:

  • Credit score. While most lenders like to see credit scores of 670 and up, every lender is different. Some lenders, like OppLoans, have no minimum credit score requirement, and others, like Upstart, accept scores as low as 300.
  • Debt-to-income ratio (DTI). A general rule of thumb is that your monthly debt payments shouldn’t exceed 43% of your monthly income, although less is better. The lower your DTI, the less risk you represent to the lender and the higher your chances of approval.
  • Income. You’ll need to prove you have sufficient income to make the repayments on your loan. Lenders typically consider job income but may also accept Social Security benefits, child support, pensions and other sources.
  • Citizenship status. The majority of lenders require that you be a US citizen or a legal resident of the US to qualify for a loan. However, a handful of lenders will consider nonresidents for personal loans.
  • Age. You’ll need to be at least 18 years old in most states to be eligible for a loan, and some states, like Alabama, require you to be 19.

Legal fees fall into three main categories with different payment structures:

  • Hourly fees. Many lawyers charge an hourly fee, and it’s common across many areas of practice — from family law to corporate law.
  • Contingency fees. Contingency fees are contingent upon the lawyer winning your case and are typically paid as a percentage of your recovery. Contingency fees are common in personal injury law.
  • Flat fees. A flat fee is a set price some lawyers charge for doing a specific task, for example, drawing up a trust.

In addition to these fees, you may also be on the hook for a consultation fee, retainer fee, referral fee or statutory fee.

Here are seven of the most common fees you might run into when consulting with or using a lawyer and what you can expect to pay.

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 the 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

An attorney’s average cost per hour is $313, according to the Clio 2022 Legal Trends Report. However, rates vary widely depending on the state and type of practice. DC, New York and Delaware have the highest average hourly rates — with bankruptcy, intellectual property and tax law commanding the highest rates.

Practice areaLawyer cost per hour
Wills & estates$308
Real estate$307
Personal injury$263
Traffic offenses$258
Medical malpractice$218
Worker’s Compensation$166

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.

The most straightforward way to pay legal fees is out of pocket. But that’s not always possible, especially if you didn’t expect to need a lawyer. In those situations, you might want to consider one of the following options.

Personal line of credit

  • Best for: A drawn-out legal proceeding

When you’re not sure how long you will 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.

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 a percentage of the damages you’re paid.

Contingency fees are generally not available for divorce cases, small settlements, criminal cases 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 funding

  • Best for: Someone suing for damages

Legal funding works like a cash advance, where a litigation funding company gives the plaintiff money in exchange for a predetermined settlement amount. This way, you’ll have the cash upfront with no risk to you, while the litigation funding company takes on the risk in hopes of a return on its investment.

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 lose 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 personal loan rates. On top of that, having a high balance can lower your credit score.

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.

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

Or, contact 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 can’t pay it back.

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. 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. Compare lenders and learn more about how they work with our guide to the best personal loans.

Frequently asked questions

Answers to common questions about financing your legal expenses.

Are legal fees tax-deductible?
Not usually. You can sometimes deduct attorney fees if that attorney was involved in making you money that you pay taxes on — like legal fees from an IRS audit. If you think you might be eligible for a deduction, consult a tax attorney or accountant.

Do I always have to pay a consultation fee the first time I meet a lawyer?
No, not always. Lawyers generally don’t charge consultation fees on a flat-fee case. Sometimes it depends on the length of your consultation. For example, I got a free consultation with a lawyer because our initial meeting lasted less than 15 minutes. If it had lasted longer, I would have had to pay a consultation fee.

What happens if I don’t win a settlement and my lawyer agreed to a contingency fee?
You’ll likely still be on the hook for your lawyer’s hourly fees outside of the contingency agreement, so make sure you’re prepared to cover those costs if things don’t work out as you had hoped.

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