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Colorado attorneys aim to lower fees for middle class with Above the Line Network

gavel, justice
Posted at 11:00 PM, Feb 19, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-20 01:00:16-05

DENVER — Legal help is often too expensive for middle-income people to afford. The Above the Line Network aims to solve the access-to-justice problem for Colorado middle-income earners.

The effort is a joint project of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) and The Chicago Bar Foundation.

Jessica Bednarz, director of legal services and the profession for IAALS, said the current structure of the legal system can put middle-class people in a tight spot.

"If you make $60,000 a year, you're not going to qualify for free legal services," she said. "You make too much money."

At the same time, a retainer can cost more than a month's salary for many people. That was why the Above the Line Network was created.

"There are ways attorneys can practice and deliver services that do make them more affordable and accessible to the everyday person," said Bednarz.

The network is a legal community in which like-minded attorneys can help each other develop and execute cost-saving ideas to facilitate access to justice for the middle class. Bednarz said attorneys are encouraged to use cost-saving measures like flat fees instead of hourly billing, when appropriate.

"Letting people know upfront how much it's going to cost to deliver that service from start to finish," said Bednarz.

She also said attorneys can offer limited representation services.

"They could also maybe just represent somebody at a hearing, or just for parts of the case," said Bednarz.

Bednarz said in those instances, the attorney can work on the most complex parts of the case and coach their clients through the other portions. Attorney Lauren Lester, who practices estate planning and family law, not only offers those services but cuts her overhead by working from home or on the go.

"I have a virtual office, which also helps me be able to meet clients where they're at," said Lester.

Lester said she also tries to help clients take less litigious routes during their cases. She does, however, explain that cases can often take surprising routes, which can increase costs.

"If they (the opposing party) try and make it more complicated, if they file something we didn't expect, there will be an added cost if you'd like to add on services for me to help you," Lester explained. "But again, I always try and give them options."

She said when she chose the business model, she thought about how she would feel if she was a client.

"It's really hard for most folks, including myself, to write a blank check," she said.

The Above the Line Network is looking for attorneys.

The Colorado Judicial Branch releases lists of attorneys offering affordable and limited representation services. You can find a recent list here.

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