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What is Low Bono?

By: Sarterus Rowe, housing attorney at ELAP and WSBA 47010 & Low Bono Section Chair and Xenia Ellis, ELAP volunteer through Interlake High School’s internship program

You may have heard the phrase “low bono,” but what does it mean?

The term “low bono” is often used to describe one of two methods of providing legal assistance to decrease the gap in access to legal justice.

ELAP’s Low Bono Program is another way we provide legal help to people who otherwise couldn’t afford a lawyer. We contract with experienced private practice attorneys to serve some of our clients through this program. People can qualify for our low bono services if their household income is below 200% of the poverty line and they reside in King County. The person seeking help pays no fee to participate. ELAP uses grant funding to pay a lower than typical hourly rate to the attorney to compensate them for their work.

Another method of providing “low bono” services are attorneys who have discounted their rates to the public to help individuals who can’t afford traditional private legal services. These legal providers often use flexible pricing models such as sliding scale fees to determine clients’ rates. These pricing models are often based on the Federal Poverty Level. Low income is considered under 200% and moderate income is 200-400% of the Federal Poverty Level.

Here are two great examples of this type of service in our region:

  • The Moderate Means Program is a partnership between the Washington State Bar Association and the law schools of Gonzaga University, Seattle University, and the University of Washington. Through this program, clients of moderate income may receive legal representation for fees reduced by up to 75%, dependent on income. 
  • The Northwest Advocacy Foundation offers legal assistance with fees determined by a sliding scale. Clients receive legal services at an hourly rate between $75 and $260, dependent on the client’s household size and income.

There is a high demand for legal assistance in King County due to the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis, making low bono services more critical than ever.

If you are an attorney, you can get involved in several ways:

Chart source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2021

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