Often the time that you need legal assistance is the time that you have the least money to get legal assistance! Here are some ways you can access free or low-cost legal services.
The first stop for many people is the legal aid system. This provides legal support to defendants regardless of their ability to pay, but this is often limited by how much time and capacity the legal aid system in each state has. They have criteria that govern the cases that they can take to the court, including something called the merit test, which evaluates whether a case has a reasonable chance of success. As a result, they are less likely to provide support if there is a low chance of success in court.
In minor matters, such as claims in small claims court where a lawyer may not be required, legal aid can help you to form your own case and file documents with the court.
If you have an employment-based issue, such as unfair dismissal or pay disputes (including failure to pay in accordance with the minimum wage), unions can often help to provide legal support from both internal union lawyers and from larger firms on an overflow basis. These services are available in most unions, although the exact process to follow can depend on your local union chapter.
Many large legal firms have a pro bono department which will take on worthy cases, such as human rights issues or supporting the work of not-for-profits. They will only take on work that aligns with their goals, so it's always worth calling and asking which priority areas each firm focuses their pro bono efforts on, so you can best direct any queries.
The final option may be to look at payment plans. This can include "no win-no fee" arrangements, where the lawyer takes a larger percentage of any settlement that you reach, as well as payment plans where you pay back your legal fees on a fixed payment arrangement each pay period. These options can be very useful for personal injury suits and property-based disputes where you expect a large payout.
Even if you don't have the money to pay for a top-tier lawyer straight away, there are many options to obtain quality legal advice for your legal issues. Obtaining legal advice can often help to maximise the chances of a successful resolution to your problem.