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Hiring an attorney is expensive. The perception is that only the rich can afford one when the proverbial pumpkin hits the fan.  We see so many movies where the character ‘lawyers up’, and we wonder, how on earth do they afford that?  Do they have legal insurance? If so, how does it work?


attorney - judge's hammer

The average person on the street will rarely have an attorney on speed dial. We either do not think we will ever need one, or we do not have the cash to afford one.  Then one day, one of the following scenarios play out in our lives:

  • No insurance on the car, and I cause an accident. The other party institutes legal action against me to recover damages on his Bentley. The accident was not intentional, and I need a professional to represent me.
  • My dog gets out of the yard and attacks a small kid. The parents sue me for medical bills and trauma caused to the kid. Or, someone else’s dog attacked my kid. How do I recover costs?
  • My spouse is suing for divorce and wants to take everything. How do I oppose this?
  • The landlord evicts me without good cause. He refuses to honour our agreement. What am I to do?
  • I have employment problems at work and may be unfairly dismissed. Where do I start preparing for this?
  • A dishonest salesman sold me something under false pretences. The contract is flawed, and the product does not suit my needs. How do I recover my costs?
  • I never expected this to happen, but I have become involved in a family ‘tiff’. The family has split, and the one camp wants to due the opposing camp.
  • The tenants in my house do not pay their rent and they are causing damage to the house. They refuse to move out, even after many letters that requested them to honour the terms of the agreement.
  • A friend borrowed a substantial amount of money from me but refuses to pay it back. I have no choice but to take legal action.
  • I am divorced, and my ex-spouse refuses to let me visit my child, despite written visitation rights. I need a lawyer to oppose this.
  • I want to buy property, but transfer costs are so expensive. I’ll never be able to afford it.

The above scenarios are by no means exhaustive.  There are many other incidents that may require legal representation.


Most short-term household insurance packages include personal legal liability cover.  However, this cover only applies if you are the responding party, ie, if you are being taken to court.  What to do if you want to take someone else to court?

Apart from treating each scenario in an ad hoc manner by hiring legal representation as incidents occur, one can consider legal aid or legal insurance.  There are many products available in South Africa, and each of them are tailored to a different target market.  Legal Aid is a state funded entity mandated by the South African Constitution to help the financially disadvantaged to get tax-funded legal assistance. Legal insurance is open for all and offer more options and have more benefits.


There is a myriad of products on the market.  It is important to compare the different options to find the correct fit for you.  Some criteria to consider:

  • The cost per month, off course.
  • Who is covered? Only myself or my family as well?
  • What is covered? Are all potential civil, criminal and labour issues covered?
  • Does the plan only cover legal advice, or does it cover an attorney in court as well?
  • What are the benefits – how much will be paid out per case or per annum. How many times may I claim, etc.
  • Are there any lead times for specific cover to become active? Some cover may be active immediately after buying the product, and in other cases cover may only become active after a stipulated period.

With legal aid or insurance in your pocket, anyone can afford an attorney.  The world is changing around us, and we can no longer say: “ it will not happen to me…”

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