How Many Types of Lawyers Are There?

Especially because each state can have different laws and categorizations of lawyers, there is not a set number of types of lawyers. There can be frequent combinations of degrees and experiences lawyers pursue, such as lawyers who have combined expertise in family law with estate planning. 

However, there are some categories lawyers generally fall into, and better understanding these can better help you identify exactly which lawyer is right for your particular needs.

General Practice Lawyer

– an attorney who does not specialize in a particular area of law, but instead handles a wide range of legal issues. 

  • This can include areas such as criminal law, family law, employment law, and more. It is important to discuss a general practice lawyer’s experience in handling the specific type of legal issue you are facing, as different lawyers may have different areas of law in which they are most comfortable. There are many different types of lawyers available, so it is best to find one who is experienced in the area of law relevant to your issue.

Personal injury lawyer

-an attorney who specializes in obtaining compensation for injuries caused by other parties (including their negligence). 

  • These types of lawyers work in civil litigations and often handle cases related to car accidents, medical malpractice, product liability, and workplace accidents. Personal injury lawyers must prove that the responsible party is liable for the injuries sustained by their client and owes them damages. Many personal injury cases are settled out of court. If you have been injured in an accident, such as a car accident, you may want to speak with a personal injury lawyer.

Estate planning lawyer

-specializes in wills and trusts and can help you draw up a will to pass on your assets. 

  • These lawyers are knowledgeable in the areas of property rights, wills, probate, and trusts, and can provide legal advice and guidance to ensure that assets are handled correctly and that tax and legal issues are addressed. They may use questionnaires to help clients evaluate their assets and liabilities and make decisions about how to provide for their family members. Estate planning lawyers can help clients set up trusts to provide for their children’s financial needs and ensure that their assets are distributed according to their wishes.

Bankruptcy lawyer

-can advise you on your eligibility for bankruptcy and the best type of bankruptcy (or routes for avoiding bankruptcy) for your circumstances. 

  • Bankruptcy lawyers are knowledgeable in the U.S. Bankruptcy Code and handle insolvency issues for individuals and corporations. They may specialize in consumer bankruptcy, representing individuals or creditors, or commercial bankruptcy, representing corporate creditors and debtors. In either specialization, bankruptcy lawyers work to navigate solutions for financial restructurings, plan confirmations, and valuation disputes. 

Intellectual Property (IP) lawyer

-specializes in intellectual property issues such as copyrights, trademarks, and patents. 

  • These lawyers protect and enforce the rights of inventors, authors, artists, and businesses in relation to their creations. IP law encompasses a variety of areas, such as copyrighting, trademarking, patenting, and protecting trade secrets for both tangible and intangible products. IP lawyers have three main responsibilities: advising clients on how to protect their intellectual property, protecting their intellectual property through registration, and enforcing their intellectual property rights against infringement. These lawyers can provide advice on a range of issues related to intellectual property, such as copyrights, trademarks, patents, industrial design, and trade secrets.

Employment lawyer

can provide advice on legal issues related to employment contracts and employment relationships. 

  • These lawyers specialize in dealing with legal issues that arise from the workplace. This can include issues related to employment contracts, discrimination, harassment, wage and hour regulations, benefits, and pension security. Employment lawyers can provide advice and representation to both employees and employers on a wide range of employment-related legal issues. They can help explain an individual’s rights, assist with compliance, file complaints, and handle litigation. Employment lawyers often specialize in specific areas of law, such as labor law or employment discrimination.

Corporate lawyer

can help with issues related to the formation and governance of a corporation. 

  • Business or corporate lawyers handle legal matters for businesses, ensuring that all transactions are in compliance with local, state, and federal laws. This can include conducting legal research, writing and revising legal documents, negotiating contracts, and advising clients on their rights and responsibilities under the law. Corporate lawyers often work on transactional work, such as reviewing, drafting, and negotiating contracts and overseeing mergers and acquisitions. They may also focus on corporate governance, venture capital, securities, and other areas of corporate law. Corporate lawyers may work in law firms or in-house for corporations, and may specialize in specific areas of corporate law.

Immigration lawyer

-knowledgeable about visas, citizenship, and other immigration issues. 

  • Immigration lawyers typically assist individuals and families with gaining citizenship or legal status in the United States or with navigating through issues they are facing caused by not currently having full citizenship. They provide guidance on the necessary requirements for living, working, or studying in the U.S., and may also assist with refugee and asylum cases. Employers and employees participating in work-visa programs may also use immigration lawyers to help with the process of gaining legal work status. When dealing with immigration issues, it is advisable to consult with an immigration lawyer who is knowledgeable in issues such as visas, citizenship, refugee or asylum status, and green cards.

Criminal lawyer

is knowledgeable about criminal law and can represent you if you are charged with a crime. 

  • Criminal defense lawyers advocate for individuals accused of criminal activity and ensure that their rights are upheld within the justice system. These lawyers may work as public defenders or private attorneys and use the law to protect the best interests of their clients. They may appear in court frequently, especially if a case goes to trial. If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime, a criminal lawyer can provide legal representation and advice on matters related to criminal law, such as bail, arraignment, arrest, pleas, and the criminal trial.

Medical malpractice lawyer

can help if you have been the victim of a medical mistake. 

  • Medical malpractice lawyers specialize in representing clients who have been injured due to medical mistakes such as misdiagnosis or inaccurate treatment. There are three common types of medical malpractice lawsuits: failure to make the correct diagnosis, birth injuries, and medication errors. A medical malpractice lawyer can help you determine whether you have suffered an injury as a result of medical negligence. If you are facing the consequences of a medical mistake, a medical malpractice lawyer can provide guidance and representation.

Tax lawyer

specializes in tax law and can provide advice on tax issues. 

  • This can include working for corporations, law firms, accounting firms, nonprofit organizations, or government agencies. Their main responsibilities include providing tax planning advice, interpreting tax laws and regulations, conducting research, and staying up to date with changes and developments in the field. Due to the complexity of tax laws and their constant changes, tax lawyers must be diligent in keeping track of court opinions, IRS rulings, and other relevant information.

Family lawyer

handle a wide range of domestic and family-related legal issues, including divorce, child custody, alimony, adoption, guardianship, paternity, juvenile delinquency, and child welfare. 

  • These lawyers may draft contracts or negotiate on behalf of their clients, write prenuptial agreements, counsel clients on legal options, or resolve familial disputes. Family lawyers can work at small law firms that specialize in family law or at nonprofit organizations. If you are dealing with a family-related legal issue, such as a divorce or child custody dispute, a family lawyer can provide guidance and representation.

Worker’s compensation lawyer

can help if you have been injured at your job. 

  • These lawyers specialize in assisting individuals who have been injured or have lost a loved one in a workplace accident or due to an occupational disease. They can help with issues such as determining the employer’s fault and the amount of benefits to which the injured worker is entitled. On-the-job injuries can be severe and may result in permanent disability. Employers may dispute legitimate claims and require injured workers to hire a lawyer to file a workers’ compensation claim. If you have been injured on the job, a workers’ compensation lawyer can provide guidance and representation.

Contract lawyer

specializes in contract-related issues. 

  • These lawyers specialize in handling issues related to a wide variety of contract types and can provide advice on a wide range of contract-related matters. They can help with contract negotiation, drafting, review, and management, and can resolve disputes or arrange agreements between parties. If a contract is involved in litigation, contract lawyers can assist with understanding how the contract must be interpreted or carried out. If you are unsure about signing a contract or have encountered a problem with a contract you have already signed, a contract lawyer can provide the experience and expertise to help you resolve your contractual issues.

Disability lawyer

can help if you are seeking disability benefits.

  • These lawyers help you navigate the complexities of the Social Security Disability system. A lawyer who specializes in Social Security Disability issues can provide assistance with any step in the process, including eligibility, appeals of denied benefits, and reductions or terminations of benefits. A Social Security disability lawyer can help ensure that clients submit the proper paperwork before the deadline for filing a claim for disability benefits. Working with a disability lawyer can provide benefits such as obtaining persuasive evidence of disability, interacting with the insurance company on the client’s behalf, and helping to navigate the claim process. Disability insurance policies can be complex, and an attorney can assist with completing claim forms and understanding the terms and provisions of individual policies to prevent claims from being denied.

What Else to Consider When Looking for a Lawyer?

What types of lawyers are trial lawyers? 

Trial lawyers work to represent their clients in court and argue the facts of a case before a judge or jury. They may be involved in a variety of tasks both inside and outside of the courtroom, such as reviewing files, interviewing witnesses, and arguing motions. Some trial lawyers may also specialize further, such as in criminal defense or constitutional law. 

Do I need a lawyer with a lot of trial experience? 

Not all lawyers are trial lawyers. While trial lawyers specialize in representing clients in court, there are many other types of lawyers who do not focus on court proceedings. 

For example, corporate lawyers handle legal matters for businesses and may work on issues such as mergers and acquisitions, intellectual property, and contract negotiations. Estate planning lawyers assist clients with creating wills and trusts, while personal injury lawyers help individuals who have been injured due to the negligence of others. There are many different specialties within the legal field, and not all lawyers are trial lawyers.

Not all legal matters require court proceedings, and since trials are costly and time-consuming, most people try to avoid trial if at all possible. Many types of legal proceedings frequently use alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation or arbitration. 

Thus, some types of lawyers rarely go to court because the scope of their work does not require it. For example, estate planning lawyers assist clients with creating wills and trusts and therefore may only need to meet with you to draft and finalize your documents. Some corporate and labor lawyers focus on writing codes of conduct and other internal corporate documents and therefore do not deal with issues related to court at all. Depending on your legal needs, your lawyer may have never stood in court, and that is perfectly fine!

How Much of Your Settlement Do Lawyers Get?

Judges Gavel

Before we dive into the answer to how much of your settlement a lawyer can get, let’s first examine the terms surrounding fees and payments lawyers charge. Understanding these will help you see that while the answer to the question can at first appear simple (“the lawyer may take at the most up to 33.33 percent of the total of any settlement for a personal injury claim”) but can be layered in fine print and other fees and stipulations.

Alternative Fee Arrangements (AFAs)

AFAs are a method of allocating the risks and rewards of litigation between clients and attorneys. These arrangements allow the clients to pay for legal services other than by the traditional billable hour. AFAs include contingent fee agreements, hybrid fee agreements, flat or fixed fees agreements, do-not-exceed agreements, reverse contingent fee agreements, success fees, and variations on these. AFAs can benefit both clients and law firms by aligning their interests and allowing for better budget management and financial risk sharing. They also allow for greater flexibility and creativity in legal strategies.

Consultation Fee

Some attorneys charge a flat fee for an initial consultation to discuss your legal issues and determine if they can help you. Many attorneys do not charge for an initial consultation, so it’s best to check in advance. On average, consultation fees range from $250 to $350 per hour. A legal consultation is an opportunity for potential clients to meet with an attorney and discuss their legal needs. This is where you provide the attorney with information about the type of legal assistance you need.

Contingency Fees

These are a popular payment arrangement in personal injury and medical malpractice cases. Under this arrangement, there is a contract between a client and a lawyer in which the client’s obligation to pay the lawyer’s fee is contingent upon the lawyer successfully recovering a settlement or judgment on the client’s behalf. In such an arrangement, the lawyer agrees to accept a fixed percentage of the amount recovered as payment for their legal services. If the case is successful and the client recovers money, the lawyer’s fee will be paid from the award. If you lose the case, the lawyer does not receive a fee, but be aware that you may still be responsible for paying expenses. In most cases, the client will still be responsible for paying court filing fees and other litigation costs, even if the case is not successful.

This payment arrangement enables individuals to have legal representation, even if they cannot afford to pay a lawyer out of pocket since the client doesn’t have to pay until the case is resolved.

Contingency fees are most frequently offered in cases such as debt collection, automobile accidents, and medical malpractice. These fees typically range from 25% to 40%, but they may be negotiable and courts may limit the percentage. However, contingency fees are not always available, and they may not be a good option for small cases or certain types of legal matters. It’s important to discuss your options with your lawyer and carefully read your representation agreement before agreeing to a contingency fee arrangement. and the client will typically only be responsible for covering the costs of litigation.

Contingent fee arrangements can be beneficial for both clients and lawyers in certain cases. For the client, this billing method can provide access to legal representation without requiring them to pay upfront for legal services. It also allows them to better manage their budgets and risks associated with litigation. For the lawyer, contingent fee arrangements provide the potential for higher payouts if the case is successful. In general, law firms evaluate the potential of a case to recover damages and the risks associated with the case in deciding whether to accept it on a contingent fee basis. They may also consider the client’s ability to pay, the potential time and resources required to litigate the case, and the likelihood of success. Ultimately, the decision to accept a case on a contingent fee basis is up to the discretion of the law firm.

Reverse Contingent Fee: 

A reverse contingent fee agreement is a type of contract between a lawyer and a client in which the client agrees to pay the lawyer a contingent fee that is a percentage of the difference between the client’s predetermined financial exposure and the final amount of any judgment or settlement that the client pays. This type of agreement is typically used when the client is a defendant in a lawsuit and has a clearly defined financial exposure. For example, if the client’s pre-determined financial exposure is $10 million, and the lawyer negotiates a settlement for $4 million, the client would pay a percentage of the $6 million savings as the reverse contingent fee. If the case is lost and the client pays the full $10 million, the client would pay nothing to the lawyer.

Reverse contingent fee agreements can be useful for clients who want to manage their risks and costs in a lawsuit. However, they only work if the client has the financial resources to reserve and pay the reverse contingent fee. These agreements can also be combined with other fee arrangements, such as a lower hourly rate or a monthly flat fee.

Do-Not-Exceed Fees

This pay structure is a type of contract between a client and a law firm in which the law firm agrees to cap its legal fees at a predetermined amount. This type of agreement is often used for specific projects, such as conducting an early investigation and analysis of a legal claim before deciding whether to proceed with a lawsuit. The law firm bills for its services on an hourly basis, but agrees that the charges will not exceed the pre-set cap without the client’s written permission. If the charges approach the cap, the law firm will notify the client and stop further work, unless the project is close to completion.

Clients may choose do-not-exceed fee agreements when they want to limit their investment in a specific legal matter, such as analyzing potential legal malpractice claims or complex commercial transactions. This type of agreement allows the client to make an informed decision about whether to proceed with a lawsuit while controlling their costs. It also allows the law firm to provide predictable pricing for a limited engagement. However, it is important to note that the fees for outside consultants or expert witnesses may be outside the negotiated cap.

Flat (or Fixed) Fees

A flat fee is when a lawyer charges a specific, total fee. Lawyers typically offer flat fees for cases that are relatively simple or routine, such as creating a will, getting an uncontested divorce, or resolving a traffic ticket. For firms using a flat fee arrangement (also known as “fixed pricing”), clients pay an agreed-upon amount upfront. This payment covers all the work that is to be performed. Flat fee agreements are common in practice areas like criminal law. A fixed fee agreement is an agreement where the client pays a fixed fee for the legal representation, regardless of the time the attorneys and staff put into the case. Fixed fee agreements are often used in criminal defense representations, but can also be used in many different types of litigation, such as a simple breach of contract case or foreclosure proceeding. The client often is required to pay litigation costs in addition to the fixed fee.

A flat fee agreement is an agreement where the client pays a monthly flat fee for the legal representation regardless of the time the law firm puts into the case during the month. Flat fee agreements can work well in a major case in which a team of attorneys and paralegals will be spending substantial time on the case each month or where there are a series of similar major cases.

Flat fee agreements can be combined with other hybrid fee agreements, such as contingent fee agreements or reverse contingent fee agreements. Again, the client usually is required to pay litigation costs in addition to the flat fee.

Hourly Rate

Unless your lawyer is working on a flat or fixed rate project, you will want to know their hourly rate. They will record every hour (or fraction of hour) spent on your case to send to billing. 

Typically, attorney hourly rates range from $100 to $400, depending on the lawyer’s experience and the type of case. Attorneys in small towns or those who are just starting out may charge $100 to $200 per hour, while experienced lawyers in larger cities may charge $200 to $400 per hour. These rates may vary based on the specific type of work being performed, with court appearances typically costing more than other tasks. Be aware that hourly rates, for attorney’s with extremely specialized expertise, such as in patent or intellectual property law, may charge hourly rates of $500 to $1,000. 

You can ask if there are paralegals on the team and if your lawyer can hand off as much work as possible to them, since their hourly rate it typically lower than the lawyer’s. This can save you a lot of money in the end.

Hybrid Fees

Hybrid fee agreements can include any combination of the other fee types described here. It is a type of contract between a lawyer or law firm and a client that combines two or more billing methods. There are many different types of hybrid fee agreements, and the specific terms of the agreement will depend on the needs of the client and the nature of the legal matter.

One common type of hybrid fee agreement is a blended hourly rate agreement, in which all attorneys and paralegals involved in the case bill their time at the same hourly rate. Another type of hybrid fee agreement is a fee collar agreement, in which the attorneys and paralegals bill their normal hourly rates, but the client and the law firm agree to a minimum and maximum fee for the matter.

A fixed fee plus hourly agreement is a hybrid fee arrangement in which the law firm charges a fixed fee for certain tasks or projects within the scope of work, and charges by the hour for other tasks. An hourly rate plus contingent fee agreement is another type of hybrid fee agreement, in which the law firm agrees to accept a lower hourly rate than normal, but also takes a percentage of any recovery as a contingent fee if the case is successful.

Overall, hybrid fee agreements can provide flexibility and predictability for clients, and can allow law firms to adapt their billing methods to the specific needs of each case.

Retainer Fees

A retainer fee is a payment made by a client to a lawyer or other professional for future services. Before signing a fee agreement with a law firm, it is important to carefully read the agreement and understand how the term “retainer” is being used.

The retainer fee is typically requested at the beginning of legal representation, and may be any amount the attorney requests, typically ranging from $500 to $5,000 or more. Some attorneys base the retainer fee on their hourly rate multiplied by the number of hours they expect the case to take. Retainer fees are not intended to cover the entire cost of a case, and if the case does not require the entire retainer, the remaining portion may be returned to the client. Retainer fees may be used to guarantee that the attorney will be compensated for their services, and to provide leverage in negotiations. Retainer agreements should be in writing and include details about the services to be performed and the allocation of legal fees and costs.

There are several reasons why an attorney may charge a retainer fee. One reason is that having a retainer fee in place can make a case more likely to settle, as the attorney’s reputation and expertise can be leveraged. Additionally, the retainer fee provides a guarantee of compensation for the attorney’s services, as the attorney can subtract their time from the retainer fee. This fee also compensates the attorney for making themselves available and forgoing other opportunities in order to represent the client.

A retainer fee may be requested at the beginning of legal representation. In some cases, a second or multiple retainer fees may be charged. Once the retainer fee is exhausted, the attorney may charge for additional legal services through periodic billing or by requesting an additional retainer. 

Be sure to ask if the firm’s retainer fees can be refunded if the services end up costing less than originally planned and how that process works.

An evergreen retainer is a type of deposit in which the client is required to replenish the deposit to a pre-set amount each month as fees and expenses are charged against it.

Statutory Fee

These are fees that are set and approved by a court or a statue. These kinds of fees are commonly associated with bankruptcy and probate cases. In some cases, state or federal law may restrict the maximum amount that can be charged for certain matters, such as probating a will or medical malpractice actions. In the past, the American Bar Association supported the use of statutory fees to standardize minimum fees and protect the integrity of the legal profession, but this was deemed to violate antitrust laws. State laws regarding statutory fees may vary.

So, How Much of Your Settlement Can Lawyers Get?

You will need to do your research up front before committing to any particular lawyer or firm. Before your first meeting, ask them to send you a breakdown of costs for the type of services you are requesting. For example, some firms may have set rates for certain services that they have broken down in itemized lists, or while some may structure it that way they won’t tell you the cost until learning more about the particulars of your situation. 

“In most cases that progress through the civil courts, the lawyer may take at the most up to 33.33 percent of the total of any settlement for a personal injury claim” (Source). However, notice that it is 33.33% of your settlement. There are other costs associated with your case, so depending on the contract you signed with your legal team, you could owe them much more than the 33.33% of the settlement. They win thought outright if you win your case, and then you may owe them more other aspects of their legal services or the steps it took to win your case. For example, the client may be responsible for paying additional expenses such as fees for expert witnesses, investigators, paralegals, and travel, as well as photocopying fees and court and criminal fees. If the client is found guilty, they may be required to pay criminal fees, which could include costs for time spent in jail and criminal records checks. It is important to ask about and understand all of the potential costs associated with your legal matter prior to signing a contract and officially hiring your legal team. 

So even when you select a firm using a contingency fee structure and you feel secure thinking you’ll only have to pay if you win and that there is a cap to what you’ll have to pay out to your lawyer, always be sure to ask before signing the contract what all of the possible fees could be.

What does this look like in practice?

The American Bar Association maps out helpful examples so you can see some contingency examples in action and that not all contingency fees are set up the same: 

The American Bar Association cautions, “If you agree to pay a contingent fee, your lawyer should provide a written explanation of the agreement, clearly stating how he or she will deduct costs…An important consideration is whether the lawyer deducts the costs and expenses from the amount won before or after you pay the lawyer’s percentage.” 

Example: Joe hires Ernie Attorney to represent him, agreeing that Ernie will receive one-third of the final amount—in this case, $12,000. If Joe pays Ernie his fee before expenses, the fee will be calculated as follows. The below will show that Joe collects an additional $700 if the agreement provides that Ernie Attorney collects his share after Joe pays the other legal expenses.

SCENARIO A: $12,000 (Total amount recovered in case) –  $4,000  (One-third for Ernie Attorney) Balance:  $8,000               

$8,000 – $2,100 (Payment for expenses and costs) 

Amount that Joe recovers: $5,900 

SCENARIO B: If Joe pays Ernie after other legal expenses and costs, the fee will be calculated as follows:

$12,000 (Total amount recovered in case) –  $2,100 (Payment for expenses and costs) Balance: $9,900               

$9,000 – $3,300 (One-third for Ernie Attorney) 

Amount that Joe recovers: $6,600


Ask if they can set up a free introductory consultation via phone that is free so both parties can learn more before committing to work together. If they won’t give you solid quotes, ask them to ballpark your likely fees or ask for a range. It could be helpful to know what the minimum might be and what the most costly scenario could be. Also inquire about what exactly would factor into making the total cost less or more, as you can then try to work to keep those factors in check as much as possible. 

Overall, know that 99% of the time the biggest factor is time. The more time a lawyer needs to spend uniquely on your case, the more it is likely to cost you. Anything you can do to minimize the time they spend working on your case (preparing documents in an organized fashion, labeling emails clearly with what is attached, making phone calls or acquiring any additional information needed yourself) will all contribute to saving you time and money. 

What Happens if a Person Can’t Afford a Lawyer – How to Get Legal Help with No Money

Two Professionals Going Over a Document | What Happens if a Person Can't Afford a Lawyer?

There may be a variety of reasons you’re searching to find legal help without it costing you an arm and a leg. You may have no cash on hand, or your money is tied up in the very legal issue you’re battling, or you’re embarking on a divorce and you don’t know what you’ll be left with, or you have recently experienced a tragedy in the family that’s left you lost at where and how to pick up the pieces and with no clue as to the financial status of the situation. 

One of the easiest ways to find out if you can qualify for free legal help is to see if your income bracket is low enough. In the state of Michigan, you must qualify for Legal Aid through your income bracket to access pro bono representation. In order to get in touch with a local attorney for pro bono work, you can contact Legal Aid of Western Michigan at (616) 774-0672 or go to They will evaluate your income and then get you a referral through the Legal Aid Pro Bono Program.

It doesn’t cost you anything to see if you qualify for this pro bono legal assistance, so don’t hesitate to look into it. 

Another way to find pro bono legal assistance is through websites such as Law’s List of Pro Bono Legal Services by State. Once you select a state, you will see everything from resources to toolkits, articles for specific issues, links to connect with local legal assistants, and recommendations for local organizations that offer assistance for particular issues. 

Other sites, like the U.S. Justice Department, have lists for specific legal issues, such as immigration-specific services, where people needing those specific services can go for free. For other legal issues, such as worker’s compensation when injured on the job, have a variety of businesses that offer free legal consultations and a variety of services that don’t cost you unless you win your lawsuit (this is called a “contingency fee”). Be sure to do a search on your topic with keywords such as “free legal services” since many causes, through private or public funding, have their own ways of connecting you to free lawyers including organizations for military servicemembers such as ABA Home Front Directory of Programs or LGBTQ+ advocacy like GLAAD and

If you’re still lost on where to begin, the American Bar Association runs a website called Free Legal Answers. It is a “virtual legal advice clinic” where “qualifying users post their civil legal question to their state’s website, or to the federal site for immigration and federal veterans’ questions. Users will then be emailed when their question receives a response. Attorney volunteers, who must be authorized to provide pro bono assistance in their state, log in to the website, select questions to answer, and provide legal information and advice.”

What Is It Called When a Lawyer Works for Free

Shaking Hands | What Is It Called When a Lawyer Works for Free

When lawyers work for free, it is called pro bono representation or pro bono work. 

The American Bar Association makes it clear that pro bono work is necessary in our society and promotes lawyers prioritizing it alongside their paid work. “When society confers the privilege to practice law on an individual, he or she accepts the responsibility to promote justice and to make justice equally accessible to all people. Thus, all lawyers should aspire to render some legal services without fee or expectation of fee for the good of the public.” They recommend “that lawyers should aspire to render–without fee–at least 50 hours of pro bono publico legal services per year.” So if you are needing legal assistance but cannot afford it, woven into our society’s legal system is a safety net for you. It is not just lawyers out of work or retired and wanting to pick up a few hours who are offering few legal services- all lawyers are called to do pro bono work, and there are many organizations set up to help pair you with the right lawyer for your legal needs and budget. 

In the state of Michigan, you must qualify for Legal Aid through your income bracket to access pro bono representation. In order to get in touch with a local attorney for pro bono work, you can contact Legal Aid of Western Michigan at (616) 774-0672 or go to They will evaluate your income and then get you a referral through the Legal Aid Pro Bono Program.

It doesn’t cost you anything to see if you qualify for pro bono legal assistance, so don’t hesitate to look into it. 

What to Take to a Lawyer for a Will

Lawyer & Client Filling Out Paperwork | What to Take to a Lawyer for a Will

Cornell’s Law School defines a will as “a legal document that states a testator’s wishes and instructions for managing and distributing their estate after death.” Everybody can benefit from having a will written in legal terms by a lawyer, so that their wishes can be upheld in a court of law and extend beyond their own life. Without a will, judges will rule on what they believe is best, but leaving behind a will ensures your wishes are weightily considered when making decisions about any finances, assets, debts, and beneficiaries you leave behind. 

After making the decision to create a will, you are likely wondering where to begin. We can help save you time and money by preparing you for understanding what documents and information you will need to provide to a lawyer in order to complete your will. 

One of the lengthiest parts of the process for you will be the decision-making. You’ll want to spend time thinking about how you’ll divide your estate, to whom it will pass, and who is in charge of overseeing your will’s execution. A person of modest assets who has decided to distribute their entire estate to one person or entity will have a fairly simple will. A person with a variety of assets or way they want to divide them or stipulations they want to include will have a possibly very complex will. 

For example, if you are dividing assets amongst several children, you might have to consider that it may not be as easy as dividing 50/50 or 33/33/33. You can divide money that way, but not real estate. Can your children sell the real estate and then divide the money? Who gets to sell it, or do they all have to agree on a selling price? As you can see, these decisions cascade and can take time to think through. 

Why Prepare Before Going to the Lawyer’s Office

Lawyers typically bill in one of two ways: per hour or per project. In both scenarios, it is advantageous to have all of your paperwork ready up front. 

When lawyers bill hourly, you’ll save money by being prepared from the start. If you bring all of the necessary items (think bank statements and loans) and information (think Social Security Numbers for you and your intended beneficiaries) to your first meeting, you may only need a few emails back and forth or a 2nd meeting to finalize and sign documents once the lawyer has completed your will. If you don’t have all of the documents and information for the first meeting, however, your lawyer will have to take time to explain to you what you are missing, possibly how to get it or what form they’ll need it in, and how to get those documents and information over to their office once you find it.

All of the time they spend meeting with you, creating this list, following up about the list via email, checking in with you about where you are in the process of completing the list, and filing away each added document or information will be billable time. Instead of them working on your will in a single setting, they will have to return to the file again and again, update their organization of the file, and piecemeal the document together, oftentimes reviewing it each time to remind themselves of where they left off the previous time and what is still needed. All of this time can add up very quickly. Instead of the back-and-forth, save yourself time and money by gathering all of the necessary documents and information upfront. 

When lawyers bill by project, this typically means they have a set rate for a particular finalized document. They may have built in extra hours in this price assuming it would take some of their time and back-and-forth communication to gather all documents, meaning you could potentially save money by going with hourly billing rate route. But overall, if you do decide on this route, you’ll save your own time by being prepared from the start. Wills in most states require lawyers to have access to the same types of documents and information, so by reading the list bellowing and preparing those for your first meeting, you’ll save yourself time and be able to get your will done faster.

Information Needed: 

  • Decisions about people- who is getting or is in charge of what you leave behind
  • Named beneficiaries, including family members, friends, and charitable organizations
    • Social Security Numbers
    • Birthdates
    • Full legal names
    • Contact information (phone, address)
  • Who do you want to be the executor
    • Social Security Number
    • Birthdate
    • Full legal name 
    • Contact information (phone, address)
  • Who do you want to be the guardian for any minor children
    • Social Security Numbers
    • Birthdates
    • Birth certificates
    • Full legal names
    • Contact information (phone, address)
  • Instructions for any items of significant emotional value
  • Any special instructions for your funeral

Documents Needed: 

  • An overall list of all of your assets, to name and locate where each are currently housed. 
    • For example, your credit card and bank accounts linked to spending will continuously change, but your lawyer will need to know the account numbers and  at which banks you have accounts. 
      • Checking accounts
      • Savings accounts
      • Safety deposit boxes
      • Cash storage or other items locked or hidden with instructions on how to access them
  • Copies of statements of each of your assets currently. Examples include (not a comprehensive list)- 
    • Mortgages and real estate deeds
    • Any debts or loans (car, student, medical, lines of credit, etc.)
    • Vehicle titles
    • Retirement accounts (401ks, ROTH IRAs, etc.)
    • Health Savings accounts (HSAs, FSAs)
    • Insurance policies
    • Investments (stocks, bonds, etc.)
    • Documentation for anything else of significant value (art, jewelry, etc.)
    • Tax records (not always necessary, but helpful to have accessible when and if needed)

By thinking through these decisions and gathering all necessary information, you will save time and money in getting your will done efficiently and thoroughly. No matter when you start this process, it might seem daunting, but it is crucial to do so to save yourself and your family headaches in the future. By gathering these documents and making these decisions now, you’ll make any adjustments in the future much easier, since the initial legwork will be taken care of. The work you do now, even if you have changes later, will always pay off.