Our executive director, Angela M. Cole, has well-rounded experience between the court system, private practice, and the corporate world. She has spent more than 18 years in the legal field with most of it in a leadership or management role. She served as a corporate attorney with global responsibilities, private practice attorney, magistrate, attorney referee, and judicial law clerk. She is also very active in the community as a volunteer with both nonprofit and civic organizations.
No matter where she was in her legal career, she was often asked for good attorney referrals. And there was almost always a catch. The attorney needed to be affordable.
Well, if you or a family member have ever needed an attorney, you know that attorneys are very expensive. In fact, here in Midland County, you can expect to pay anywhere from $225 to $450 per hour. If you are looking for estate planning services, a basic estate planning package consisting of a will, trust and powers of attorney averages between $1,000 and $1,800. And if one of your loved ones gets in trouble with the law, the average criminal defense attorney charges a flat fee of about $1,000 for a misdemeanor, while felonies can cost thousands of dollars.
Angela also saw the effects on people and their children who needed but could not afford an attorney. Over the years, except when she was employed by the Midland County Courts, she regularly discounted her fees or did free legal work to help many of those people.
Angela always had a dream in her heart to help more people who otherwise had no access to the courts or justice. Then, that dream grew bigger and began to keep her awake at night. So she left her role as a Magistrate and Attorney Referee at the Midland County Courts in March of 2018 and started Affordable Legal Care (ALC), a non-profit whose attorneys serve clients who earn too much to qualify for free legal services through federal grant programs, but who earn too little to afford to pay the full price of an attorney.
The services provided by attorneys at Affordable Legal Care are not free. There are already programs for folks who make less than 125% of the federal poverty level that provide free services. Attorneys at Affordable Legal Care provide services to individuals who make between 125-300% of the federal poverty level. Services are priced on a sliding scale depending on income and family size and range between $60 and $135 per hour.
A single individual with one child making $24,000 a year (equivalent to $12 per hour full time) would not qualify for free legal services through federal grant money programs because he or she would make too much money to be eligible, but would qualify for Affordable Legal Care’s attorneys’ lowest rate of $60 per hour. A family of four earning $47,500 per year would pay $75 per hour. That same family earning $72,000 would pay $135 per hour.
Forty percent of Midland County’s households (and 50% of households with children) earn more than the federal poverty level but less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level and are considered truly middle class. The State Bar of Michigan estimates 40%–60% of the middle class have legal needs that go unmet. This affects the quality of their lives and their children’s lives. The services provided by ALC help narrow the gap for middle class individuals and families that are unable to obtain legal services.
Legal Aid and public defenders now have a place to send people that earn too much to qualify for their services, traditional attorneys now have a place to send people that cannot afford their services, and courts will have fewer people appearing before them without an attorney.
By charging on a sliding scale, the people at the top of the scale subsidize the people at the bottom, thus allowing attorneys with Affordable Legal Care to help a wider range of people in need than could otherwise be done. The non-profit law firm model is being used in other areas and is sustainable because overhead is kept low and clients pay retainers in advance to avoid collection issues.
Who will benefit from this project and how many will this program serve?
So many people –families, individuals, elderly, and children will benefit from this program. Our attorneys expect to serve between 15-20 clients from Midland County per month.