The Real—and Verifiable—Reasons Why Free Legal Help Doesn’t Get It Done

Many people who seek free legal help do so because they tried the paid route and got burned (often burned baaaad). It’s true: lots of divorce lawyers (or I should more accurately say “lots of lawyers who claim to be divorce lawyers”) aren’t competent. And so people who paid a lawyer and got burned figure that all divorce lawyers are boobs, and so anyone who would pay such a person is a boob too. And that’s one reason why you may look for free legal services.

I sympathize with you, but better yet, I have good news for you: there are excellent, even extraordinary, divorce lawyers out there who are worth every penny they charge and then some—you just have to take the time and care to sort through all the clods to find the diamonds.

You like the idea of free stuff, I like free stuff. All things free stuff. And when you need legal services, the idea of getting free legal services from a divorce and family lawyer sounds appealing on the surface. That’s because you believe—erroneously—that free legal services are the same as legal services for which you pay.

Remember when all those charitable, unlicensed, non-contractors (perhaps you were among them) all volunteered to help re-roof that poor widow’s house in your neighborhood? Yes, she got a new roof, and it was better than nothing, but it wasn’t much of a new roof. So unless you’ve found an independently wealthy lawyer who practices law with a high degree of skill and diligence for purely altruistic reasons, free legal services aren’t much, if any, good. Here’s why (and here’s why I won’t provide the legal services people pay me for, for free):

Divorce lawyers who have a long track record as successful lawyers in court are also successful in business too. You can’t be one without being the other. Free for you comes at the expense of my paying clients. It’s not fair to people who pay me for legal services. It’s not fair to me. And it’s not fair to you, either. The more things I do for free the less time and energy and fewer resources I have to do as much of my best work as possible. We’ve all seen the difference between what we can do for free and how well we do when we are paid well to do it. Lawyers are no exception.

Most people would never think of asking for free gasoline at the service station or free food from restaurants, but these same people don’t see much, if any, of a problem with asking for free legal help. While some people can and do occasionally make free stuff—including free legal help–stretch a long way, such people are so rare as to make giving away free legal services not worth the hassle.

Consequently, free legal help is also rarely enough and rarely good enough. It doesn’t begin to solve your problem. It can’t. Because it’s not my best work, it’s not my complete work. It’s what any of us can spare for free, and what we can consistently spare for free isn’t much. It is impossible for me to work for free and maintain the same level of quality I provide for a price.

There’s also a very practical reason for why free legal help is of generally poor quality and why good free help is in short supply: liability concerns. There are all kinds of rules governing the profession regarding our duties to the public. Candidly, many (most) of these rules treat the public as if it consists of helpless imbeciles who cannot think for themselves, but they are what they are. For the same reasons they took diving boards out of hotel swimming pools and for the same reason you see disclaimers posted on everything, lawyers are reluctant to offer help as a free courtesy. Lawyers who go around dispensing free advice and giving free help can be, and often are, exploited by people who try to hold free advice and help to the same standard as what is paid for, so they figure, rightly, why expose themselves to unnecessary risk? Why stick my neck out to help someone when no good deed goes unpunished?

For those who still think good free legal help is out there, I say to you: “[w]hat we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.” (Thomas Paine, The American Crisis) Deep down, you know this. You can’t deny it. People who seek free legal advice want the best advice and assistance without paying the price. They want to have a lawyer do the job well without him being paying well. People who seek free legal advice want the bitter without the sweet and end up with the legal services equivalent of the cheap, cloying mint given away for free in a bowl at the lawyer’s office.

Utah Family Law, LC | 801-466-9277 |

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