What is Low Bono work?
Roughly 85% of low and moderate income individuals in Washington will face a legal situation. Difficulties in affording an attorney does not affect just low income individuals. Many "moderate income" citizens of Washington have jobs that do not provide sufficient income to pay attorney fees. Legal Aid is available to a very small percentage of people. A law firm that does low bono can help bridge the gap and provide legal services to those who cannot afford the general market rate for legal services. The general market rate that attorneys charge for their services varies,
but it tends to be anywhere between $200-$300 an hour. With many
established firms in the more urban areas charging upwards of $600/hour. Low bono provides a fee agreement where an attorney will charge an hourly rate based on a client's income.
How is the amount to be charged determined?
Attorneys who integrate low bono work into their practice will often use a sliding scale based on the monthly income of the client. The sliding scale that attorneys who practice low bono use is often based on the percentage that people are above the federal poverty level. For example, if a person is only 150 to 200% above the federal poverty line they would be entitled to a 50% discount and would only have to pay $100/hour if the attorney normally charges $200/hour. For those 300% to 400% above the poverty line they might pay $150/hour. Individuals 400% above the poverty level can usually pay normal market prices.
Why do Low Bono?
There are two reasons why this is a good idea: attorneys should try to address the access to justice issue, and attorneys who practice under a low bono model can still make a living if done right. Every day, I see individuals trying to draft and attempt the legal system by themselves. Judges will do their best to be considerate to unrepresented individuals. However, there may be unintended consequences from poorly drafted legal documents.
Additionally, a low bono practice can be profitable for new attorneys who are able to keep their overhead down and be efficient in their work. Roughly 40% of Washingtonians could be considered of moderate income. This means that close to 2.75 million people in the State of Washington could benefit from discounted legal rates to address a range of legal issues in their lives from family law matters, estate planning, criminal charges, and small business advising. Attorneys who try to cater to these clients need to be more efficient and take on more cases than an attorney who charges market rates in order to make similar income. However, younger attorneys should strive to do at least some low bono work. It is my hope to incorporate the low bono model into my practice to some extent.
If you know of anyone who could benefit from discounted legal services please feel free to put them in touch with me.
Luke Larson, Attorney & Counselor at Law