Modest Means

State Bar of Wisconsin

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Need a Lower Cost Option?

The Modest Means Program of the State Bar of Wisconsin assists people whose income is too high to qualify for free legal services, but too low to pay a lawyer’s standard rate. The Modest Means Program is run by the Lawyer Referral and Information Service at the State Bar. When we receive your completed application and documentation, we will try to match you with an attorney who has agreed to consider certain cases at a reduced rate.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much do the attorneys charge?

Attorney fees differ from lawyer to lawyer, but lawyers in this program are urged to offer rates that are substantially lower than their regular rates.

The fee will be determined by the lawyer based on your legal matter and what you are able to afford. There are various types of fee arrangements that are possible. You will have to discuss fees and agree on payment options at the initial consultation. You may want to ask for a written explanation of the fees and payment structure you agreed on.

We will only refer you to a lawyer on the Modest Means panel if we believe, based on the documentation you provide, that you are willing and able to pay something for the lawyer's legal services. Attorneys through the Modest Means Program are not free.

Also, we do not make referrals for what are often called contingent fee arrangements (where the lawyer is only paid if you win).

How are the lawyers chosen for individual cases?

We keep a list of lawyers who have agreed to reduce what they charge for prescreened referrals through this Modest Means Program. We attempt to find a lawyer in as convenient a location for you as possible.

Do I have to hire the lawyer to whom I am referred?

You are not obligated to hire the lawyer you are referred to, and the lawyer is also not required to take your case.

Is there a charge for referral?

The State Bar does not charge you a fee for the referral service; however, the lawyer may charge a $20 fee for the initial half-hour consultation.

How will my eligibility be determined?

Below is a table that shows the basic income limits that we currently use. Find the size of your household in the first column. The two dollar amounts in the row to the right of your household size are the lower and upper gross income limits we will use for a household of your size. Your income must be more than the lower number but no more than the higher number.

Size of family Annual Income is at least Annual Income is not more than
1 $14,363 $22,980
2 $19,388 $31,020
3 $24,413 $39,060
4 $29,438 $47,100
5 $34,463 $55,140
6 $39,488 $63,180
7 $44,513 $71,220
8 $49,538 $79,260

Eligibility is determined by your gross household income (before taxes), including earned and unearned income. Child support and maintenance payments are the only expenses that may be deducted from gross income to determine eligibility. We will also consider your assets when deciding whether you are eligible for this program. For example, if you have significant equity in your home that you are able to borrow against to pay an attorney, then we will consider that in evaluating your ability to pay a reasonable amount to an attorney. When you apply, the information you will need to provide includes your gross household income from all sources (including wages or benefits such as Social Security disability or SSI, worker's compensation, unemployment or VA benefits), bank account balances, and the value of any real estate, stocks, bonds, CDs and/or retirement accounts. Your income and assets must be documented.

What kind of documentation do I have to submit to show I'm eligible?

Because the attorneys through this service are agreeing to offer their services at lower than normal cost to qualified clients we require proof of income, assets and expenses that you want us to consider in determining your eligibility. Your documentation may consist of copies of pay stubs, benefit statements, support/maintenance orders and account statements. If you are not sure of what documentation to include, org LRISResponse wisbar contact us. You may remove or block out sensitive information such as social security or account numbers. Do not send us your original documents, only copies.

What if I don't have any income? Am I still eligible?

The Modest Means Program is not free. It is designed for people who have some ability to pay for a lawyer, but who cannot afford the standard cost of a private lawyer's services. If you need free legal services, you will be referred to another legal services program if possible.

A number of legal service agencies serve Wisconsin. To qualify for assistance, you must meet their income and eligibility guidelines.

What types of cases are accepted on a reduced fee basis?

The Modest Means Program refers cases in the following areas of practice:

Bankruptcy
Chapter 7
Chapter 13
Foreclosure Defense

Criminal Law
Misdemeanors
Ordinance Violations
Pre-charging consultations
Traffic Offenses

Consumer Law
Construction Contracts
Consumer Fraud
Contracts
Identity Theft
Insurance Policy Disputes
Small Claims

Probate
Power of Attorney
Wills

Family Law
Child Support
Cohabital Property Division
Custody
Divorce
Grandparent's Rights
Guardianships
Maintenance
Paternity
Termination of Parental Rights
Visitation

What types of cases are not eligible for a modest means referral?

Generally, any case that may result in you suing for a monetary award or damages is not eligible for a reduced fee referral (personal injury, medical malpractice, etc.).

How do I apply for a modest means referral?

Please complete the application form, enclose the requested documentation and send to the State Bar of Wisconsin.

When we receive your completed application and documentation, we will try to match you with an attorney and provide you with contact information for the attorney. You must contact the attorney to set up an appointment – they will not contact you. Your first consultation will cost no more than $20 for the initial half hour. If you and the attorney agree on representation, you should discuss financial arrangements at the initial appointment.

What are some other resources?

A number of legal service agencies serve Wisconsin. To qualify for assistance, you must meet their income and eligibility guidelines.