Legal Aid Income Requirements

Lawyers may provide free or low cost assistance to clients meeting income guidelines.
Lawyers may provide free or low cost assistance to clients meeting income guidelines. (Image: Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

The times when an individual needs a lawyer do not necessarily coincide with the ability to afford one. Whether it is a criminal or legal matter, having the services of a lawyer available can help one navigate through complex legal issues. Legal aid provides those with limited resources the opportunity to enlist the aid of a lawyer to handle the difficult matters that require an education and expertise in the law.

What is Legal Aid?

Legal aid is provided by bar associations, government services and legal aid societies. The offered services require the individual to meet income requirements to qualify for assistance. Legal aid may help clients with civil or criminal matters to ensure qualified legal representation for those without resources. The legal aid office may have income requirements for free legal assistance or a sliding scale system for clients who do not meet the requirements for free help.

Free Legal Aid

For those charged with a crime that may lead to imprisonment, the law provides for free assistance for individuals who cannot afford an attorney. The client must request assistance in court when he is in need of free legal counsel in a criminal matter. The court must make a determination on eligibility based on the individual’s income and resources.

Civil Legal Aid

Legal aid programs also assist individuals involved in civil matters that require the assistance and guidance of an attorney. The legal aid office uses an income guideline to determine qualification for assistance. According to the American Bar Association, legal aid programs usually use 125 percent of the poverty level to determine eligibility. Some programs may help clients with higher incomes as well. Applicants for assistance may qualify for legal aid with higher incomes if they are elderly, domestic violence victims, disabled or enlisted in the military. Legal aid programs must work within a budget, which may require a restriction on the type of cases the program helps.

Low Cost Legal Aid

Legal aid programs may provide low cost assistance to individuals who do not meet income eligibility for free assistance. Individuals may save on the cost of legal services by performing some of the legal work on their own and hiring a lawyer to handle part of the legal services. Lawyers may also offer a sliding scale for clients based on income. While the services may not be free, it can significantly lower the costs of legal assistance.

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