How the SBM Modest Means Program Works

Your eligibility for the program is based on your legal matter, income, and assets as well as the availability of participating lawyers in your area.

If you qualify for the program, the modest means attorney will charge a reduced fee for any legal work provided after the initial consultation.

The reduced fee rate is $75 per hour. Unless you are using one of the fixed-fee services, your attorney is billing by the hour.

Modest means clients will pay $25 to the State Bar of Michigan for a referral to a lawyer for a 25-minute consultation. Exceptions may apply.

Am I eligible?
Apply Here.


​To be eligible for the Modest Means Program, you must have a qualifying legal issue, your household income must fall at or below 250 percent of federal poverty guidelines (see below), and your liquid assets must not exceed $5,000. A liquid asset is cash on hand or an asset that can be readily converted to cash, which generally does not include money in a 401k or other retirement account.

Make this quick calculation to see if you qualify based on your household size and income.

Am I Eligible for Reduced Legal Fees?

The State Bar of Michigan Modest Means Program connects moderate-income people with attorneys who offer reduced-cost legal assistance. The Modest Means Program is not a free program. Qualifying applicants must pay for any services received. If you cannot afford to pay for services, contact the legal aid office in your County of residence. The Guide to Legal Help is a tool developed by MichiganLegalHelp.org that can assist you in determining if you qualify for legal aid or other resources. Use this interactive Guide to find the best available legal information and lawyer referrals for your problem.

Fees: Lawyers generally charge either:

  • $75 an hour, if hourly;
  • reduced flat fees for fixed-rate services;
  • an initial fixed payment followed by a payment plan or service agreement;
  • or a combination of the above.

A lawyer may charge a retainer fee (deposit) or up-front initial payment, not to exceed $750. Service agreements may include no-charge services, a reasonable payment plan, a recurring charge to a bank account or credit card, or any combination of these. You and the lawyer will negotiate an acceptable agreement. This will differ from attorney to attorney and case to case. The agreement should be in writing.

Fees may be more if the situation is more complicated or if the service first requested does not fit the facts.

There are limited numbers of lawyers providing these services and they are not yet available in all communities. LRS staff will do its best to provide options for you.

Use the "Am I Eligible" calculator to quickly determine whether you may be eligible for reduced legal fees.

What are qualifying legal issues?

We currently offer assistance with:

  • Bankruptcy Law — This service is limited to the preparation and filing of Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases which will be handled for a flat fee of $500. This amount excludes filing fees, costs associated with adversarial proceedings, responses to contested matters, appeals, rule 2004 examination fees, transcript, and interpreter fees. If the attorney and client decide to undertake work outside the scope of the flat fee program, the hourly rate will be $75.
  • Consumer Law — General consumer matters including fair debt collection, credit reporting, new/used car matters, utility disputes and creditor collection matters, as well as debtor/garnishment and repossession defense. Note: Attorney fees are allowed as part of the damages in some consumer cases. If the attorney obtains an award of attorney fees, they can keep that award. If the award is more than the fees or retainer paid you will receive a refund.
  • Criminal Law — This service is limited to expungements and driver’s license restoration.
  • Family Law — Covered matters include divorce/separation and custody, annulment, visitation, adoption, paternity, emancipation, and name changes. Services provided may include the preparation of documents, preparation for, and representation at, referee and court hearings.
  • Probate and Estate Planning — Includes estate and disability planning, probate estate and trust administration, conservatorships and guardianships.
  • Real Property — Includes matters related to deed preparation, the purchase and sale of residential real estate and residential tenant matters.

How do I apply?

To apply, complete the Modest Means Application and submit online or, if you'd prefer, download the form, complete, and mail back to us. To access the application, quickly calculate your eligibility by selecting "Am I Eligible for Reduced Legal Fees." Please provide a confidential email address and telephone number where you can be reached during the day. The application will ask you to certify that the information you provide is accurate and that you understand that, if you provide false information, you may not participate in the Modest Means Program.

We will contact you after your application has been processed to let you know whether an attorney is available to handle your matter. Upon payment of a $25 administrative fee to the State Bar of Michigan, the Modest Means attorney will provide you an initial consultation of up to 25 minutes. Our Lawyer Referral Service staff will collect the fee before providing you with a referral. The Modest Means attorney will review your application to determine whether a conflict exists. If no conflict exists, with your consent, the Modest Means lawyer will contact you within two business days regarding an initial consultation about your legal issue. If a conflict exists, the attorney will notify the State Bar of Michigan and you will be so advised.

The lawyer may ask additional questions to confirm your eligibility for the program. The lawyer has the final say in the financial qualification process. If you do not qualify for the program, we can discuss other options, including referring you to a Lawyer Referral Service lawyer.

Here are a few simple tips to make the most of your experience and keep legal costs affordable.

Remember that this is not a free service and that both your time and the attorney's is valuable. Unless you are using one of the fixed-fee services (look at your retainer agreement to be sure), your attorney is billing by the hour.

Remember that when you call or email your attorney, he or she is keeping track and will charge against your retainer for the time to answer your questions.

We know you might have lots of questions, so plan ahead:

  1. Find out if your attorney prefers emails or phone calls.
  2. When emailing, have your questions organized and use short sentences and lists instead of long paragraphs.
  3. If you are able, email your questions and ask the attorney to call you back at a time that's convenient for both of you.
  4. Ask all your questions at once, in the same email. If you must ask a follow-up question, reply to the initial email to make everything easier to find.
  5. If you have a meeting scheduled, come prepared:
  • Have your list of questions ready, including anything else you'd like to talk about.
  • Have all the requested documents and information organized and ready to go.
  • If you have a meeting scheduled, get there on time (or a little early). These matters can be stressful, so try to reduce stress by knowing where to go and giving yourself plenty of time to get there.
  • Follow through. If your attorney asks you for documents or to contact a possible witness, do it!

By following these tips, you'll be able to get more from this experience and access essential legal services in an affordable way.

2021 Annual Poverty Guidelines (250%)
Family/HouseholdPoverty Guideline
1$31,900
243,100
354,300
465,500
576,700
687,900
799,100
8110,300
For families/households with over 8 persons, add:11,200
2021 Monthly Poverty Guidelines (250%)
Family/HouseholdPoverty Guideline
1$2,658
23,592
34,525
45,458
56,392
67,325
78,258
89,192
For families/households with over 8 persons, add:$933