Frequently Asked Questions
Law firms are able to take cases on contingency (where they are not paid unless they win a case) only when they have a surplus of funding to cover their costs while the case is ongoing. Open Legal Services is structured so that clients fund their own cases. This allows us to charge less money because we are not simply focusing on getting large profits. Besides, most family and criminal cases cannot be taken on contingency due to ethical rules. We do work with attorneys who will take cases that don’t fall under these rules, and we will happily put you in touch with them.
No. Clients who qualify for our services fit between 125% and 300% of the federal poverty level. Those who fall below our scale are eligible for free help in the form of pro bono entities such as Utah Legal Services, Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake, or free legal clinics. Those who fit within our scale are not eligible for these free services except under very exceptional circumstances. Those agencies receive funding to be able to offer free representation. We do not accept grant money for this purpose at this time. We charge for all work we perform, but we do it at a much lower rate than private attorneys.
Legal services are considered unbundled when a case is broken into small pieces. For example, you can hire an attorney to just help you speak in court or draft a document. We rarely do this type of work, because we find it is too easy for the other side, or even the court to confuse you or let you make mistakes which can be costly to your case in the long run. It is always better to have an attorney by your side for the whole case. Representing yourself or only having help for part of your case can actually cost you more in the long run. These cases take longer to resolve, or you end up needing to hire an attorney anyway to fix mistakes. A better option may be to pay for a one hour consultation with us to get a case plan put together to decide what your next steps should be.
No. At Open Legal Services, we do not believe in charging clients for work we do not actually perform. Many attorneys enjoy flat fees because they don’t have to keep track of their time, and at the end of a case the entire fee is considered “earned.” If the case takes ten minutes, they get the full fee. If it takes two years, they get the same amount. We prefer to closely track every minute we work for you, and only bill you for that amount.
Public defenders are appointed by the court. Depending on which court your case is in, you will either be appointed counsel from the Salt Lake Legal Defender Association, or a private firm which contracts to represent indigent defendants for various cities and counties.
The first step in being appointed a public defender is to appear in court. This can be frustrating, as the first thing you want to do when you are charged or arrested is speak with your attorney. Public defenders are very busy, carrying many cases at once. For this reason, you will not usually be able to speak with a public defender until he or she has been appointed to you in court. Until the judge orders them to be appointed on your case, they are not your defense attorney. To get them on your case, you need to appear in court and fill out an Affidavit of Impecuniosity (also known as an Affidavit of Indigency). The judge might ask you questions about your income and monthly expenses to determine if you qualify for a public defender.
If they determine that you do, the public defender will generally set a new hearing and you will come back on a different day. That date is when you will speak in detail to your attorney. Sometimes the public defender will have time to meet with you that same day, and sometimes the public defender is not in court when the judge appoints them so you will have to wait until your next court appearance.
Determining if you qualify for a public defender largely depends on the judge and which court your case is in. Some courts and judges are more lenient in their definition of indigence than others. The State of Utah has a statute which defines an indigent person as someone who:
- Does not have sufficient income, assets, credit, or other means to provide for the payment of legal counsel and all other necessary expenses of representation without depriving that person or the family of that person of food, shelter, clothing, and other necessities; or
- Has an income level at or below 150% of the United States poverty level as defined by the most recently revised poverty income guidelines published by the United States Department of Health and Human Services; and
- Has not transferred or otherwise disposed of any assets since the commission of the offense with the intent of establishing eligibility for the appointment of counsel under this chapter.
(from UT Code Ann. 77-32-202)
Sometimes. The State of Utah has a provision which allows the courts to “recoup” some of the money they pay for your case. Recoupment is set by the judge at the time of your sentencing, and you pay it along with your fine directly to the court. It can range in price, but in our experience it is between $100 and $200. You have the term of probation to pay it and your fine in full, and the court will often require a minimum monthly payment based on your ability to pay and the length of the probation.
Do you have a case in Utah but you live in some other state? It can be a huge commitment of time and money to travel back to Utah in order to hire an attorney and/or appear in court. For example, if you happened to get a traffic ticket while driving through Utah but live elsewhere. At the very least you can hire us for a one hour consultation over the phone to help you figure out what your options are and how you can proceed with your case. Some courthouses do allow people to appear telephonically.