How to Find a Lawyer in NYC


There are several ways to find a lawyer. First, if you are financially eligible, you can go to a legal services organization. Some of them are listed in this report. Standards to qualify for legal assistance vary from organization to organization. You do not have to be on welfare to qualify for free legal help. Do not automatically assume that you do not qualify.

A second way to find a lawyer is to go to a legal referral service at a local bar association. There are bar associations in many counties. The Legal Referral Services of the bar associations located in New York City are also listed in this report. Legal referral services have lists of participating lawyers. When a person calls or comes in, the bar association's legal referral service will refer him/her to a lawyer who is in the client's geographical area. There is a small fee, as stated in the listing, which goes to the lawyer for the initial consultation. After that, the fee arrangement is negotiated between the client and the lawyer.

A traditional way to find a lawyer is through suggestions by friends, acquaintances or organizations. You can ask several people, whose judgment you respect, for the names of lawyers they have actually used and know about. Question them closely about the lawyer's qualifications and performance. (The questions to ask can reflect the considerations listed below).

Another approach is to join one of the group or prepaid legal service plans, which provide legal services for members at a relatively low cost.

Talking to the Lawyer

You should be selective in shopping for a lawyer. Don't be overwhelmed by appearances, and don't be intimidated. Instead, ask the lawyer about his/her training, prior experience, specialized areas, and any other questions to determine if that lawyer suits your needs. You should decide if you could work with the prospective lawyer as a person. Do you feel he/she is concerned about your problem? Does he/she answer your questions in a straightforward way? Is the lawyer patient? Does he/she take time to explain things you don't understand? Does he/she listen to your concerns rather than simply telling you to "leave everything to me"?

Talk about fees at the very beginning. Is the lawyer clear about how much he/she will charge you? It may not be possible for a lawyer to tell you exactly how much his/her services will cost since it may be hard to know in advance exactly how much time the case will take. But, a lawyer should not simply say the retainer (the amount you pay in advance) is so much down and "we'll see from there." He/she should give you an idea of the limits and tell you how he/she charges for time, or any other basis for setting the fee. Where the amount of time the work will take is fairly predictable, you should be told what the cost will be, assuming the prediction is accurate. Do not hire a lawyer without a clear idea of what it will cost you. And the terms of the arrangement should be put in writing.

Lawyer fees vary greatly. Depending on where you live and the nature of your problem, a lawyer's time can cost between $25 and $200 per hour or more. If you think a lawyer is too expensive, talk to someone else. Compare. Ask the lawyer exactly what he/she will do for you for the money. Ask if there are any additional costs you have not been told about, like court costs and other disbursements. Find out what each of these is. The lawyer worth hiring is one who will be willing to discuss these questions. Tell the lawyer if you think his/her fee is too high. Many fees are negotiable. Also negotiable is how you pay the fee - that is, how much you pay right away and how much you pay over time.

Finally, there are different ways of structuring a fee. A contingent fee is where all or part of the money the lawyer receives depends on his/her ability to get a particular result. A straight time fee is when you pay the lawyer either an hourly or flat amount regardless of the result, and these fees can be mixed - e.g., a fee can be $1,000 plus one-quarter of the recovery, if any.

Legal Referral Services

Bar associations maintain legal referral services in each county of New York City. The purpose is to help people who can afford a private attorney to find one. For a small charge, a brief consultation with a lawyer will be provided. (The New York Women's Bar Association does not charge a fee for consultation in every instance.) The Legal Referral Services and the New York Women's Bar Association Referral Service will make referrals by phone. The other referral services require a personal visit, except that the Queens County Bar Association will accept letter applications describing the problems to be solved. Addresses and phone numbers are provided below. Each office sets its own hours, so check before visiting.

Association of the Bar of the City of New York
42 West 44th Street
New York, NY 10036

Bronx County Bar Association
851 Grand Concourse
Bronx, NY 10451

Brooklyn Bar Association
123 Remsen Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
718 624-0675

Queens County Bar Association
90-35 148th Street
Jamaica, NY 11435

Richmond County Bar Association
2012 Victory Blvd.
Staten Island, NY 10314
718-447-5353 & 718-442-4500

NY Women's Bar Association
245 5th Avenue, Suite 2103
New York, NY 10016

Agencies Providing Legal Help to People of Limited Income

There are some agencies that will provide you with legal help at no cost. In some cases, you will have to pay court fees. Geographic and financial eligibility requirements differ from agency to agency, along with scope of service. The variations can easily be confusing, so it would be good sense to resolve any confusion by calling or visiting the nearest office of any listed agency and asking if they will take your case, or suggest an agency that will. The following are some of the organizations that provide free legal assistance:

Legal Services Corporations
The offices listed here are the federal anti-poverty programs. They handle civil, not criminal, matters and accept only clients who cannot afford private representation and whose cases are not fee-generating. The types of cases accepted vary from office to office.

Bedford-Stuyvesant Community Legal Services Corp.
1368-90 Fulton Street
Brooklyn, NY 11216
Contact: Walk in.
Eligibility: Residence in one of the following zip codes - 11213, 11216, 11221, 11225, 11233.
The office accepts civil matters except for matrimonial cases. Typical cases are consumer welfare, employment and housing, landlord-tenant, SSI, social security, Medicaid, disability and food stamps.

Brooklyn Legal Services - Corporation A
East Brooklyn Legal Services
80 Jamaica Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11207
Contact: Telephone for an appointment unless it is an emergency, where no appointment is necessary. Handles civil cases, primarily housing and welfare and other government benefits.

Brooklyn Legal Services - Corporation B
105 Court Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
718-237-5500 186 Joralemon Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Contact: Telephone for an appointment.
Handles civil cases - consumer, employment, housing, matrimonial, welfare and other government benefit programs, and in certain instances, other civil actions.

Williamsburg Legal Services
260 Broadway
Brooklyn, NY 11211
Contact: Telephone for an appointment.
Eligibility: Residence in Bushwick or Williamsburg. Cases accepted include welfare, housing, social security and immigration. The office also serves as counsel to non-profit corporations in the community.

Bronx Legal Services 579 Cortlandt Avenue
Bronx, NY 10451
Contact: Telephone for an appointment.
Cases accepted by the office include administrative agency proceedings, consumer complaints against furniture stores, social security, welfare, some divorce, landlord-tenant, and Con Edison bills.

North Bronx Legal Services 2605 Grand Concourse
Bronx, NY 10468
Contact: Telephone for an appointment.
All civil cases are accepted, consumer, unemployment insurance cases. No custody, divorce or support cases. Handles all cases except negligence and criminal for persons 60 and over.

MSY Legal Services
299 Broadway
New York, NY
(212) 427-0693
Contact: Walk in (for screening).
Eligibility: 96th Street to 135th Street, from the East side of 5th Avenue to the East River).
Cases include consumer, habeas corpus, housing, social security, supplementary security income and welfare. There is limited intake for family court proceedings and divorces.

Queens Legal Services Corp.
42-15 Crescent St., 9th Floor
Long Island City, NY 11101

89-02 Sutphin Blvd
Jamaica, NY 11435
Contact: Telephone for an appointment.
The Long Island City office handles consumer, welfare, and employment cases. The Jamaica office handles housing, matrimonial, some custody and family court cases, welfare, social security, and not-for-profit corporation matters.

Legal Aid Society
The Legal Aid Society has offices that handle civil matters at the following locations:

90 Church Street
New York, NY 10007
(212) 577-3300
Serving the Lower Eastside and Westside up to 34th Street

Harlem Office:
2090 7th Avenue, 8th Floor
New York, NY 10027
Serving Lexington Avenue to Riverside Drive W.110 St. to 169 St.

Staten Island Neighborhood Office:
60 Bay Street
Staten Island, NY 10301

Queens Neighborhood Office:
120-46 Queens Boulevard
Kew Gardens, New York 11415
(718) 286-2450

Brooklyn Neighborhood Office:
166 Montague St.
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Bronx Neighborhood Office:
953 Southern Boulevard
Bronx, New York 10451

Contact: Telephone the individual offices. Or, you can call 212-227-2755 for civil matters, 212-577-3355 for criminal matters, 212-858-1300 for juvenile matters, for referral to the appropriate office. You may also visit the Legal Aid website on the World Wide Web at

The Legal Aid Society's three divisions - civil, criminal, and juvenile - offer the full range of legal services to the poor. The Civil Division (the offices of which were listed previously) handles cases in such subject areas as consumer, bankruptcy, debtor-creditor, family and matrimonial, landlord-tenant, wage claims, welfare, social security, and unemployment insurance.

Community Law Offices is a special project of the Legal Aid Society that utilized the services of participating volunteer attorneys throughout the city to work with its own small staff. CLO handles small, not-for-profit corporations. It also represents tenant groups.
Location: 105 East 106th Street, New York, NY 10029.
Contact: Telephone for an appointment. 212-722-2000
Eligibility: Residence in East or Central Harlem.

MFY Legal Services Inc.
MFY is a national legal services corporation funded project that represents poor persons in civil matters such as family court proceedings and actions arising from consumer, employment, housing and welfare complaints. It also handles divorce and separation cases, and gives classes on how to obtain your own divorce. It does not take non-support, paternity or criminal cases.

MFY Legal Services Inc.
299 Broadway
New York, NY
Contact: Walk in

223 Grand Street
New York, NY 10013
Contact: Walk in.
Eligibility: South of Houston, from East River to Broadway

For more information you may also visit

Much of the material set forth above was obtained from the Special Committee on Consumer Affairs of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. That Committee publishes a pamphlet, "New York City, Law Consumer's Guide," concerning consumer legal rights. You can obtain a copy of this pamphlet, at no charge, by contacting the Association of the Bar of the City of New York at the above address.