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In finding out how different demographics prefer to find an attorney, a recent survey conducted by Moses & Rooth revealed that low-income households prefer to use the Internet for their search more than middle-income households do. Out of 1,573 responses related to income, 147 participants stated a preference for Internet searching. Within that group, 14% were of low-income households ($0 – $24,999); 7.4% were of low to middle-income households ($25,000 – $49,999); and 9.3% were of middle-income households ($50,000 – $74,999). This may come as a surprise at first since Internet service providers are notoriously expensive, and a large amount of low-income homes do not have Internet access. However, some research shows that very low-income households rely on smartphones or other handheld devices for online access.
A Push for Affordable Internet
In addition to smartphone data usage, there has also been a push over the last several years for affordable Internet service for low-income homes. After all, in this day and age, Internet access is an essential need for the home in order to do basic things such as homework, search for a job, or pay bills. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program (aka ConnectHome) was designed to bring Internet access to low-income homes, and several Internet providers joined the program to provide low-cost or free Internet service to HUD-chosen residents. Furthermore, businesses and non-government organizations have taken steps to support the program, such as providing technical training and support, financial donations, and other projects. Local governments also play a key role in allocating funding to implement broadband access programs for low-income communities. As a result of this push, many new service providers have been created specifically to provide low-income Internet services thus making Internet access more feasible for those who otherwise cannot afford it.
Community Connections vs. Internet Connection
An alternative and more prevalent reason that could explain the above-mentioned survey finding is that most low-income individuals cannot afford an attorney in many legal situations and thus turn to the Internet to assess their options for free legal services. Thankfully, there are many free or inexpensive legal aid services and pro bono attorneys out there specifically to assist the low-income demographic and are easy to find in a quick online search. Consequently, referrals are used less often when searching for a lawyer since Internet searching suffices to meet the need.
A result of using free legal services is a lack of legal networking in low-income communities. Private lawyers are not as connected in such communities due to a lack of demand for them. Conversely, middle class households are more likely to have the ability to pay for an attorney or at least have more connections to someone who can refer a lawyer to take on a case at a lower cost. As a result, middle-income homes are more inclined to have options and connections that low-income homes do not have, thus making it easier to find an attorney through alternative methods.
Internet use is the obvious approach to find an attorney when there is a lack of connections to lawyers and lack of ability to afford a private attorney. Therefore, it seems less surprising that low-income communities are more confined to the Internet when searching for attorney options.