What to Do When You Can’t Pay Your Lawyer

If you cannot pay your lawyer, don’t panic, don’t disappear, and don’t assume your debt will be forgotten. Lawyers often owe a lot of money for student loans and running a business means having a lot of expenses, so many practitioners do rely on every single client payment.

There are different types of fee arrangements and you may be able to negotiate a situation that will work for everyone. Even rapper Lil’ Wayne talked to his lawyer about a payment plan. Here is how to handle the talk when you’re stuck.

The Talk

Having a talk about why you can’t pay is probably going to be awkward and a little stressful for everyone involved. For you as the client, you may be tempted to be dramatic. Do not, in an effort to get fees waived, overemphasize your difficulties and list all your tragedies, starting with your birth. Don’t do that.

Do ask to schedule a very brief chat with your attorney. Apologize about the delay in payment. Express an understanding of the lawyer’s position — recognizing that your lawyer is a human too, and one working to earn a living, may gratify them enormously. Clients get used to being the center of all conversations and may be surprised to find that their lawyers also like to be seen.

If you assume based on your lawyer’s office or suit or shoes or watch or car (or one of the many alleged signifiers of wealth) that they don’t need your money, you will probably be wrong. You may also anger your attorney.

Do not start the conversation by saying that you know that the lawyer has it all. Right now your lawyer does not have one important thing that you were supposed to give, your fee. So be extremely respectful and polite and contrite. Remember, you are asking for a favor.

Payment Plans

Many attorneys will take fees in weekly or monthly payments. If you can agree to make small, incremental contributions to your fee, both you and your lawyer will be pleased. Try to have an amount in mind before the big talk — figure out what you can do easily, and then try to do just a little better. Get started paying down what you owe.

Credit Cards

Many attorneys will take credit card payments. Although it is never a good idea to rely on credit cards when you can’t afford your life, a lawyer’s fee may well be that extravagance you should indulge. If your lawyer won’t make a payment plan, this is an option.

Talk to a Lawyer

If you have a pending legal matter and need guidance but are concerned you can afford an attorney, consult anyway. Many lawyers consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to assess your case and sort out a plan for payment.

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