Some people may not know that they qualify for free legal services - and even fewer people know what free legal help actually covers.
In general, the type of legal help you might expect from various free legal services organizations might include:
- Information and referral services
- Consultation and advice
- Court Assistance, including full representation in court from trial to appeal
- Case management
- Drafting of small business forms and related documents
While the type of free legal help available varies from state to state and agency to agency, below is a summary of the kind of cases that some free legal help agencies may cover.
Housing - This includes help if you are behind with your rent payments and your landlord wants to evict you. This may also include help filling out lease agreements and locating public housing.
Consumer Issues - Some agencies focus their time in providing legal help on a variety of common consumer law issues, such as banking disputes, credit problems, debt collection, and insurance underpayment. This might also include help with defective goods and services and protection under a state's "lemon laws."
Immigration - Agencies who provide free legal immigration services can help with visas, asylum, permanent residency status passports, and explain special employment rules for immigrants.
Homelessness - Programs such as the Homeless Advocacy Project can help the legal needs of the homeless such as help with social services programs, temporary housing and other civil legal services.
HIV/AIDS - Agencies who focus on HIV/AIDS services can help with guardianship planning for families with children, public benefits, powers of attorney and wills, insurance, and discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations.
Disaster Relief- Disaster relief agencies provide help for those who have suffered damage and loss as a result of tornadoes, wind storms, hurricanes, and other national disasters.
Public Assistance - These agencies can with applying for welfare, Section 8, and job assistance.
Family and Children - Agencies who focus on family matters can help with family disputes, divorce agreements, child custody, visitation, and other related issues.
Domestic Violence - Victims of domestic violence or abuse can seek shelter and/or help against their abusers.
Elder Law - This may include help with Medicaid, Medicare, wills, and other issues involving nursing homes and financial abuse.
Legal Services - Includes help finding lawyers through free referral services/
Community Economic Development - These programs (often offered through law school clinics) help with drafting of articles of incorporation, bylaws for corporations, business licenses and permits, trademark and copyright applications, and contract drafting and review.
To find free legal help in your area, take a look at our State Legal Aid Resources.
It is important to know that as with most limited resources organizations, not all free legal help organizations can accept your case. If you are denied free legal services because of an agency's workload, for example, you may wish to contact a private attorney and ask whether they can represent you on a free basis as part of a "pro bono" program.
It is also important to note that free legal aid agency's do no handle criminal cases. If you are involved in a criminal case and cannot afford legal help, a court will appoint a public defender in your state to help defend your case.
Finally, most free legal aid resources do not accept "fee-generating" cases, such as cases on contingency where a fee is paid from money awarded to the winning party. If you believe your case will generate income in the form of a settlement or damages (such as a personal injury case), you may wish to contact a personal injury attorney in your area.