If you need legal guidance but can’t afford to pay full price for an attorney’s help, you may benefit from working with a legal aid society. This guide answers the question, “What is legal aid?” and provides links for resources in each state to make the process of getting the help you need as easy as can be.
What Is Legal Aid?
Legal assistance organizations help people to navigate pressing legal problems. These organizations provide free and low-cost legal services for people in need of professional assistance. Most nonprofit legal services organizations only serve low-income individuals, families, and communities, but this isn’t always the case.
Many lawyers who practice in for-profit firms volunteer their time at these organizations, while other attorneys may be employed by a society full-time. Just as nonprofit organizations serve other needs of the community on a free or low-cost basis, legal aid organizations fulfill a need for free and low-cost legal services.
Before you begin working with a legal assistance organization, you may be placed on a waiting list. Nonprofit organizations only have so many resources to share and legal assistance programs may not always be able to provide professional guidance immediately. Once you’re accepted as a client, you’ll work with a lawyer just as you would if you hired a private attorney.
Types of Legal Aid
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to a lawyer in criminal cases. If a defendant can’t afford to hire private legal counsel, an attorney will be appointed to represent their interests. No such right exists in civil matters. If someone is facing legal difficulties unrelated to criminal charges, they can hire an attorney, represent themselves, or seek free or low-cost legal assistance.
Legal aid societies provide different kinds of assistance for the communities they serve. Many offer legal guidance concerning the following legal issues:
- Consumer rights
- Domestic violence
- Elder abuse
- Housing discrimination
- Landlord-tenant disputes
- Orders of protection
- Public benefits
- Tax challenges
While these are some of the most common services, programming can vary by organization. Reach out to local aid societies to ask about their offerings and eligibility criteria before making any assumptions about whether you can benefit from low-cost or free legal assistance in your area. The state legal aid resource links provided below can get you started.
Who Qualifies for Free and Low-Cost Legal Assistance?
Eligibility for legal assistance programs varies, and many programs are only available to people who meet low-income thresholds. Some programming, however, is more widely available. For example, the San Francisco County ACCESS Center is open for anyone in need of certain kinds of legal assistance. This program provides assistance for small claims matters, name changes, and other minor civil matters. By contrast, some programs are only available to people who meet highly-specific eligibility criteria that don’t relate to income. For example, many programs across the county cater specifically to older adults, veterans, or Native Americans.
As eligibility criteria varies for each program, just as the services provided by each program vary, you’ll want to research your options carefully before signing up as a client of any particular legal assistance organization. If you can’t find any legal aid organizations that meet your needs, know that many states offer “self-help” resources that may benefit you.
What Is Legal Aid in Each State?
Some state governments provide free and low-cost legal assistance resources, while residents in many states rely solely on nonprofit organizations for this kind of professional guidance. To start researching the options available where you live, click on the link for your state listed below:
Have a Lawyer Evaluate Your Case for Free
Understanding “What is legal aid” may not be enough if you’re in urgent need of professional guidance. Consider requesting a free evaluation of your case from a local attorney.