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Every lawyer at some point or another is going to have a client that can't pay. If it hasn't happened to you yet, then consider yourself lucky.
It may happen that they come to you and there is just no way they can afford a private attorney. Or, they may have engaged you, and then discovered that they can't make the bill. Either way, we have resources you can turn to and a few ideas that might help.
You know free and low-cost legal alternatives exist -- but maybe you don't know where to find them without spending 45 minutes googling around. If you know during that first interview the person in front of you can't afford private representation, there will most likely be some form of legal aid for them. That's where we come in: FindLaw's California State Laws section gives you the lowdown on legal aid offices in cities all over the state, including large metropolitan cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego.
If you already represent the client, you could always decide to write off your billable hours and donate your time. The American Bar Association Center for Professional Responsibility recommends that every attorney donate at least 50 hours of legal services per year. If you have not yet done your good deed for the year, this may be a chance to give your client a break, and fulfill an ethical obligation.
Some clients may feel bad about not being able to pay right now, but will want to fulfill their financial obligations. If that's the case, you could set up a flexible payment plan with the client, offer a discount, or come up with an alternative billing method.
Dealing with a client that can't pay is a tough situation that can turn ugly at an instant. Rather than taking an adversarial approach, try to work with your client to get through the situation. Whatever method you choose, FindLaw has many resources to help you make the best decision for your firm.
What are your tips for dealing with a client that can't pay? Let us know @FindLawLP on Twitter.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.