There are a number of reasons that you might require the service of an attorney. Whether you are going to court on criminal charges, need representation in a dispute with you landlord, or simply need legal advice and guidance, not having the money to hire a lawyer can place you at a disadvantage. This is why there are free legal assistance options available to you.
Legal aid societies and corporations
Legal aid organizations exist in most cities, towns and counties in the United States. Legal aid societies are usually independent of local governments. The typical legal aid organization might be a not-for-profit corporation that enters into a contract with the state or local communities to provide free legal aid to individuals who are charged with committing crimes.
A legal assistance office is staffed by attorneys, paralegals and support personnel paid for by the corporation that, in turn, receives payment from the government. In order to receive free legal help, a person must meet specific eligibility guidelines. For example, income guidelines usually exclude anyone who is working and earning more than the guidelines permit from getting free legal assistance.
Someone who is eligible for free legal help will be assigned an attorney from the local legal aid office to represent the person on the criminal charges. Although they are usually associated with criminal defense services, some legal aid organizations also represent people and provide legal advice on such noncriminal matters as:
. Landlord and tenant disputes
. Divorce and family issues
. Consumer protection
Assigned Counsel Lists
Most cities and counties throughout the country make use of assigned counsel when they do not have a legal assistance organization or when there is a conflict of interest and a legal assistance attorney cannot handle the case. Judges have a list, usually obtained from local or state bar associations, of attorneys willing to represent people with low incomes who are charged with criminal law violations.
Attorneys on an assigned counsel list agree to represent the person to whom they are assigned by a judge at an hourly fee that is substantially less than what they would normally charge a client. Assigned counsel lists are usually limited to criminal cases, but programs have been created using volunteer attorneys to provide free legal aid to assist people who are representing themselves in family law, eviction, bankruptcy and small claims court proceedings.
The Legal Services Corporation
Congress created and funded the Legal Services Corporation in 1974 to provide financial support to programs providing free legal aid to low-income people throughout the U.S. LSC funds programs that make it possible for people to have access to the civil court systems when they might not be able to do so because they were unable to afford to hire a lawyer.
If you are in need of an attorney, there are free legal aid opportunities available in your community. The best place to get information about programs in your area is your local bar association or the clerks at the local courthouse.