Climate Change Project

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The Impact of Client-Paid Legal Fees

Personal legal services are no more expensive than many medical services, yet only rich individuals and relatively large corporations use attorneys routinely. The deterrent to the use of preventive legal services is that the only third-party system is insurance defense. The result is that individuals and small businesses generally do not see attorneys until they are in legal trouble. This increases the cost and reduces the effectiveness of legal services. While the Constitution guarantees a court-appointed attorney for persons accused of crimes, there is no provision for civil attorneys. Many persons cannot obtain civil legal services when they are in legal trouble because they must pay legal costs from their own pockets.

The state of legal services provides an interesting lesson for medicine. It is very difficult to persuade clients to pay for preventive legal services. Typically they seek legal help only in emergencies. This is the same pattern that is seen with indigent health care. Persons who have to pay a significant proportion of their disposable income for medical care seek medical care only for emergencies. They have no ability to pay for preventive treatment. Since everyone has to pay for legal services, even relatively wealthy individuals such as physicians will not seek preventive care.

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