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Modest Means Referral Service

The Modest Means Program of the State Bar of Wisconsin assists people whose income is too high for free legal services, but too low to pay an attorney's standard rate.


State Bar members who volunteer to join the Modest Means Panel agree to provide services at reduced cost to moderate income clients who have been screened by the Bar’s Lawyer Referral and Information Service (LRIS). You do not have to pay a fee to join the Modest Means Panel.

Modest Means clients have some means to pay, but need lower cost services, so panel attorneys are encouraged to offer alternative payment arrangements such as a reduced hourly rate and/or a lower than normal advance of fees.

The Modest Means Program of the State Bar of Wisconsin assists people whose income is too high for free legal services, but too low to pay an attorney's standard rate.

Attorney resources:


How much should I charge?

That is entirely up to you. The State Bar cannot set a schedule of reduced hourly rates and retainer amounts for the Modest Means Program. We can direct you to legal services organizations and resources for more information about the use of sliding scale fees and limited scope representation to manage costs. Panel attorneys may charge a lower hourly rate, a low fixed fee, waive or require a smaller advance of fees, or make some other arrangement.

The reduced fees will differ from attorney to attorney, but should be substantially lower than the attorney’s regular rates to accommodate the financial situation of the individual client. The amount of any advanced fees will be determined by the attorney, but should also be substantially less than is normally charged.

How is an attorney chosen for each matter?

LRIS staff will attempt to find an attorney in as convenient a location for the caller as possible, selecting from a database of attorneys on the Modest Means Panel. The database can be searched by the type of attorney needed and the geographic location of the caller or where the court is located.

Am I required to accept cases referred by the Modest Means Program?

You are not obligated to accept referred cases, and after the initial consultation, the client is not required to retain the referred attorney.

Do clients pay a referral charge for this service?

The State Bar does not charge a fee for making a referral; however, you may choose to charge a $20 fee for the initial half-hour consultation. At that point, you will need to discuss fees with the referred client and agree on the details of what they can afford to pay and what you are able to accept as payment for your legal services.

How will client eligibility be determined?

Eligibility is determined by the client’s gross household income, including earned and unearned income. Child support and alimony payments are the only expenses that may be deducted from gross income to determine eligibility. We will also look at what liquid assets an applicant may have that could be used to pay for the requested legal assistance. When clients apply, the information they will need to provide includes gross household income from all sources (i.e., 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 stocks, bonds, CDs and/or retirement accounts. Below is the basic income eligibility range that we will be using:

Size of family
income must be between 125% and 250% of Poverty


125%                 250%

$ 16,988           $31,900

$22,888             $45,775
$28,788             $57,575

$34,688             $69,375
$40,588              $81,175
$46,488              $92,975
$52,388              $104,775
$58,288               $116,575

What if a client does not have an income or assets? Are they still eligible?

No. The Modest Means Program is not a free service. The program is designed for people who have some ability to pay for an attorney, but who cannot afford an attorney’s full fees. Persons who need free legal services will be referred to another legal services program if possible.

What types of cases are referred to participating attorneys?

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

Chapter 7
Chapter 13
Foreclosure Defense
Criminal Law:
Ordinance Violations
Pre-charging consultations
Traffic Offenses
Consumer Law:
Construction Contracts
Consumer Fraud
Identity Theft
Insurance Policy Disputes
Small Claims
Power of Attorney
Family Law:
Child Support
Cohabital Property Division
Grandparent’s rights
Termination of Parental Rights

What types of cases are not eligible for a Modest Means referral?

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