Legal services are often thought to be one of the more expensive things a person may need during their life - next to emergency medical care and the costs of buying a home. Fortunately, there are many different places you can turn to for free or low-cost legal services, including free legal services provided by the government, law firms, and even law schools.
Below is a summary of the types of free legal services that may be available in your state.
If you have been arrested and charged with a crime, you may be dreading heading to court, especially if you do not have the resources to afford a lawyer. You may be entitled to obtain legal services without charge, however. Under the United States Constitution, you have the right to free legal services for your criminal trial if you cannot afford an attorney of your own. Often, these attorneys are appointed by a judge from a public defender's office when you are formally charged with criminal counts. This attorney will be assigned to your case for the duration of your criminal trial, as well as your first appeal if you lose the intial criminal case. To find out more, you can contact your local public defender's office.
If you think that you need to file a lawsuit to protect your interests, but are unable to afford a private lawyer, you may be able to qualify for legal aid, often called legal services. Legal aid organizations and attorneys often receive funds from the government and are normally tasked with taking on cases concerning the poor and impoverished. Because of their limited funding, however, legal aid societies and lawyers can usually only take on a select few cases. The lawsuits that legal aid attorneys normally litigate are ones involving denial of unemployment benefits, social security benefits, consumer credit issues, and eviction and other landlord tenant lawsuits.
Before you begin looking to obtain services from a legal aid organization, you should make sure you qualify. Often times, legal aid organizations only take cases from those who make less than a certain amount of money each year. You can look in the phone book or contact a local bar association in order to get in touch with a legal aid society to see if you may qualify for free legal services. Government funding to these organizations is usually limited, and because of this, they may not be able to take your case, or you may be in for a long wait.
Many personal injury attorneys take cases on a contingency fee basis, which means that you do not pay anything to the attorney up front and the lawyer only gets paid if you get paid. Contingency fee arrangements are great for those who have winning cases but no real means of paying an hourly fee to an attorney.
The way a contingency fee basis works is that you and your attorney will decide on a percentage amount of the reward that the attorney will get upon a successful lawsuit or settlement. This percentage is often in the neighborhood of 30-40%, but can vary depending upon your state and the laws governing these arrangements where you live. Keep in mind that this percentage does not cover the costs incurred by an attorney, such as filing and court fees. If your case does go to trial, however, and you are successful in your lawsuit, judges often award the costs of the lawsuit in addition to the judgment amount for your injury.
Attorneys working in private practice and in firms often set aside a portion of their time to work on pro bono cases. As with community legal aid clinics, pro bono services typically are offered to individuals whose combined household income is less than 125 percent of the federal poverty level. There are some exceptions to these income limits, which you would need to learn about from each pro bono program.
Often times you may find an attorney willing to provide free legal services if your case involves some issue of social justice. Social justice issues are easy to spot as they will have implications that extend well beyond the scope of your case and include things like sexual harassment in the workplace or freedom of speech. For example, if you are attempting to sue your landlord for racially discriminating against you, you may be able to find an attorney willing to work for you on a pro bono basis as this case may have a broader influence on the community than just your specific problem.
There are a number of organizations that have legal teams dedicated to providing free legal services on social justice issues, including organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
You can find free legal services at many law school legal clinics that provide free legal services to low income clients by law students under the supervision of an attorney (usually a clinical professor). Generally, this type of pro bono work is offered in one or more particular areas, including family law, elder law, landlord-tenant issues, health care law, and financial assistance. Moreover, law students can provide a range of legal services including, but not limited to, research and writing, drafting legal documents, client interviews, negotiation, and court preparation.