Lawyers: Generally a Last Resort
Ask your association for advice about retaining a lawyer if you reach a point in your career where you feel a lawyer is required to protect your job. You may have reached such a conclusion for a number of salient reasons. Perhaps you've gone through a grievance process, only to lose at the eleventh hour because of an arbitrator's failure to properly interpret the evidence before him. Or perhaps an administrator has discriminated against you and now you feel the courts are your sole recourse. Or perhaps a student has made a false accusation against you so you require the services of a criminal defense lawyer. For these and many other valid reasons, you're convinced it's time to go to court.
Get counseling from your association first. If they can help you, even up to providing a skilled advocate to argue your grievance before an arbitrator, let them handle it. Why? Simple economics: Lawyers are extremely expensive because their analytical and oratorical skills are prized by laypersons seeking justice. Therefore, discuss the matter with your association first; if they agree that you need a lawyer, let them counsel you on the options for paying for one.
One option for circumventing huge legal bills is to find a lawyer who accepts a contingent fee; that is, if she wins your civil action — say a suit for wrongful termination or sexual harassment — and collects damages, she'll get paid from that fund.
Of course, contingent fees only apply to civil cases — suits seeking money damages for unjust injury. In a criminal case — say if you're charged with molestation — your association may agree to pay to represent you. Remember, they do their job when they protect your job.