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I Can’t Afford a Lawyer! What Can I Do?

If you can’t afford a lawyer, you need to be able to do a lot of the necessary work yourself. In this article, we explain how you can make your case on a budget.

Ultimately, the strength of your case will depend on what actually happened and how clearly and convincingly you can put your story across to the court. The quality of the legal advice you get from a solicitor or a barrister, which is the key service you want from them, and the efficiency with which they can give it, will also depend on how well you present your evidence to them. So there are compelling reasons for finding a good way to gather and present your evidence right from the start. Once you have gathered it for your lawyer, you will already be in a strong position to gather and present you evidence in documents for the court.

With cuts in legal aid and the gradual inflation of lawyer’s fees, many people are having to fund their own legal cases, so if you can’t afford a lawyer, you’re definitely not alone. Advice charities try to fill the gap but unless you qualify for legal aid they generally can’t help you prepare your case if you have to go to court. You’re unlikely to get pro bono help unless you’re in a special situation so that your case is seen as of public interest.

Don’t despair. There are ways of getting legal help which may still make it affordable. The services of both solicitors and barristers have been changing in recent years and there are ways of still getting fully qualified legal help which will save you a substantial amount of the expense. Leaving aside ‘no win no fee’ and fixed fee services for this article, one way of saving on fees is to use a solicitor who will provide ‘unbundled’ legal services and another is direct instruction of your barrister.

What are ‘unbundled’ legal services?

Solicitors are now allowed to ‘unbundle’ their services, which means that they can agree with their client to provide only part of their overall service and not full representation. This might mean that they agree only to provide advice and not to prepare paperwork, or represent you in court, or some other combination of services. This means that you only pay for the parts of their service that you really need and not the parts you can do yourself, such as gathering information, filing forms or sending letters.  In the meetings you have with your solicitor, you will have had essential legal advice to decide what goes in the forms you have to submit or letters you have to send, how many copies you have to send and where to send them to. You pay as you go along, not in advance of the work that is to be done. You buy exactly what services you need and don’t pay more than you have to.

How to instruct a barrister directly

Barristers are usually instructed by a solicitor, on behalf of the solicitor’s client, i.e. you. More recently though, members of the public can also instruct a barrister without the use of a solicitor. This allows clients to remain in charge of their litigation and save on the cost of a solicitor. Not all barristers will accept direct instructions but you can find the ones that do on the Direct Access Portal. Your barrister will advise you about the strength of your case and how you should pursue it and can draft documents such as statements or letters for you to complete. The barrister can negotiate with the other side for the client and represent you in court.

What would I have to be able to do if I use these services?

Whether you are using a solicitor’s unbundled service or a directly instructed barrister, you need to  gather your evidence and then prepare the actual documents you will need in court. Gathering your evidence into a form that a lawyer can easily understand is essential if you are to save time (and fees) and you will do best if you can turn up at your first appointment with a clear record of events organised by date (called a chronology), supported by the documents or other material which supports what you say. Even if you are paying a solicitor for full representation so that your chronology and statement will be prepared for you, there is no magic in having them sit and listen to you trying to explain what has happened. You are the one it happened to, so you will know your own story best. You can save a lot of lawyer time by making a clear written record of events which gives your legal adviser all the information they need quickly and succinctly.

For help in gathering and presenting your evidence you should use the ONRECORD mobile app (download from here). We don’t give legal advice but the app will help you put together a clear and easily understood chronology with each event you record supported by any documents, screenshots or photos to support what you say. Then you can turn up at your lawyer’s ready to get the truly valuable help they can give in the form of legal advice and have the tools at hand to prepare your evidence for your court hearing.

Remember, if you can’t afford a lawyer there are other avenues you can explore to help you make your case.

George Hibbert

Founder ONRECORD

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