If you need legal assistance but cannot afford a lawyer, legal aid societies typically can help. Their services range from providing you with free or low-cost legal representation as well as legal education, document preparation and telephone advice and assistance. The availability of legal aid services depends on the resources available to your local agency, as well as your income level.
In many areas, legal aid societies (also known as legal aid services or "legal services") help low-income people handle common civil legal matters. In some places, a legal aid society may have an arrangement with the court system to also provide legal representation in criminal cases to the indigent.
Types of Cases
Many legal aid services have limited funding and staff, and so may only provide services in a few areas of law, according to Nolo.com's article, "Finding Free Legal Services." The types of cases often addressed by legal aid offices include tenant-landlord disputes, child custody issues and foreclosures. If you have a legal problem and contact a legal aid society for help, you may be asked to participate in an intake interview with a lawyer or paralegal to determine whether the agency can handle your case. If it can't, you should still ask for referrals to other lawyers or services that might be able to help.
In addition to legal representation in court cases, a legal aid attorney may be able to provide you with legal advice so that you can handle your case on your own. Different legal aid societies provide different services depending on their resources. Some regularly hold legal clinics, which provide information to the public on a variety of common legal issues, such as eviction, bankruptcy or divorce. In some cases, legal aid services may also offer free "walk-in" clinics at which you can actually speak to lawyers about your problem, and they can help you develop a plan of action or let you know if legal aid can help you further. Legal aid may also provide assistance at courthouses, legal document preparation services or extensive legal information via their websites or through a telephone voice mail system.
While legal aid societies often sponsor informative websites and offer legal clinics to the general public, you may need to meet income requirements before receiving services. Some legal aid societies use the federal poverty guidelines as a benchmark for service eligibility, requiring that your income be equal to or less than a percentage of the federal poverty level.