At some point in your life, you may need an attorney, but feel like you can't afford one. Fortunately, the U.S. justice system is structured in a way so that people who can't afford an attorney can actually receive free or low-cost legal help in many situations. While most people have heard of public defenders for criminal cases, you can actually find free legal help with immigration, housing, elder issues, and matters concerning families and children. FindLaw's Legal Aid Resources section provides information about free legal services and how to determine if you qualify for such services. You can also find a section on how to obtain a court-appointed defense attorney, as well as a state-specific directory of free and low-cost legal aid resources.
How to Qualify for Free Legal Aid
Whether a person qualifies for free legal aid depends on various factors. Some factors include income, safety, health status, location, and whether the issue is criminal or civil in nature. While you might meet the qualifications to receive free legal aid, you might run into issues finding a free legal service in your area. However, there are a few general situations where you can qualify for free legal aid, assuming it's available in your area.
Generally, a person accused of a crime has a constitutional right to an attorney. This means that if you can't afford one, you can have a court-appointed attorney or a public defender. Each state has its own maximum income requirements to qualify for a public defender, so it's important to check with your state to see if you qualify.
Another situation whether you might be entitled to free legal aid is if you're a mentally or physically disabled veteran. There are local veterans associations that can provide legal help with issues ranging from rent assistance to child visitation matters. Finally, there are other situations that can qualify you for free legal help, such as being the victim of domestic violence, being an immigrant, or living with HIV/AIDs, so it's important to check with your local court or legal aid program for more detailed qualifications and services.
Types of Free Legal Services
Lawyers can be pretty expensive, and sometimes you might really need help from one. Luckily, there are various places you can turn to for free or low-cost legal help. Law firms, law schools, and the government are all places that can offer various free or low-cost legal services to those who can't afford it. While each state offers its own free legal services, there are some general legal services that may be available in your state.
One place to find free legal services are at law schools. Many law schools have legal clinics that provide legal services to low income clients. These legal clinics are beneficial to both the client and the student because it allows the student get real life experience (under the supervision of a licensed attorney) and help a client who can't afford a private attorney. Law school legal clinics can be in various practices areas including elder law, family law, and landlord-tenant law.
Social justice organizations can also be a good resource for free legal assistance. Of course, these organizations are only interested in cases involving social justice issues. However, while you might only be thinking about your own particular situation, your case might have more general social implications - such as freedom of speech, sexual harassment, or housing discrimination. A couple examples of social justice organizations are the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Finally, it's possible to receive free legal help from private attorneys as well. Many personal injury attorneys, for example, take cases on a contingency fee basis, which means that you only need to pay the attorney if you win the case. The attorney and client decide on the percentage that the attorney will receive if the lawsuit is successful or the case is settled. It's important to note that the percentage doesn't cover any costs incurred by the attorney, such as filing and court fees. Private attorneys also often set aside a portion of their time work on pro bono cases for low-income clients.