“Low bono” services and the income trap

Ken Liu

Maria is a single mother with two kids whose husband suddenly left her and fought for custody of the kids. He makes over $100,000 a year and could afford to hire an experienced family law attorney. She makes $35,000 a year and, being in an expensive metropolitan area, could barely afford rent, much less hire an attorney. Given this situation, guess who won custody?

Unfortunately, Maria’s situation is an all-too-common scenario across the country. Studies show that mothers who have legal representation are nearly twice as likely to be awarded custody of their children than mothers without representation. 

Clients like Maria don’t qualify for Legal Services Corporation-funded legal aid because they are just above the income threshold of 125% above the federal poverty level. Millions of people with legal problems are trapped in the zone of having too high of an income for legal aid but having too low of an income to afford private lawyers.

Many clients in this zone actually want to pay for a private attorney and are capable of paying something, just not the $300 or more per hour average hourly rate. So what options do they have? Well, if they’re fortunate enough they can find “low bono” attorneys – attorneys who intentionally charge below-market legal fees to help clients in the income trap. Yes, attorneys like that do exist — ones like Steve Krieger, founder of the Access to Justice Legal Referral Service, which matches lower middle-class clients with low bono attorneys in the D.C. metro area. 

The benefit of low bono services is that attorneys can take on limited or full representation of a client without the risk of getting sucked into a never-ending case for which they’re committed to, but getting no pay. They can, in some cases, “do good while doing well.” Just as God told the Israelites to leave some of their crops unharvested so the poor and the foreigners could glean some (Leviticus 23:22), I pray for more Christian attorneys who will reduce some of their fees intentionally to serve those who can’t afford full rates.

For more information on how attorneys can incorporate low bono services into their practice, sign-up for our “Low Bono Services” webinar by Steven Krieger on August 11th.

Low Bono Services Webinar – August 11, 2022, 1:00pm ET. For many middle-class Americans, standard law firm billing rates are simply beyond their ability to pay. This is especially true in extended litigation matters such as family law disputes, one of the top middle-class legal issues. As part of an exclusive guild, attorneys (and especially Christian attorneys) have an obligation to serve those who can’t afford legal services. Join us for the “Low Bono Legal Services: How Private Practitioners Can Help Close the Access to Justice Gap” webinar to learn about the tremendous “access to justice gap” and how attorneys can help fill this gap through “low bono” (reduced fee) services as part of their private practice.

Mike Schutt

Director, CLS Law School Fellows

Alanna Walker

Grants Coordinator

Michelle Williams

Law Student Ministries Coordinator


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