As a general rule, the only people who can provide you with legal advice or represent you in court is a lawyer. Of course, you are also free to represent yourself in court, but you likely will only have limited legal knowledge if you do so. While anybody else is free to provide you with legal information, providing advice is something that is limited almost exclusively to lawyers. However, many people find lawyers prohibitively expensive, which may lead such people to believe that they cannot afford legal advice. Fortunately, there are ways to get free legal advice if you are dealing with a serious legal issue.
Legal aid societies exist throughout the United States and they provide legal services to people who might otherwise be unable to afford them. Legal aid societies tend to be especially helpful in simple civil cases, such as divorces, landlord-tenant disputes, benefits claims, and so on. In criminal cases, the state is constitutionally obligated to provide the defendant with an attorney if he or she cannot afford their own. For this reason, legal aid tends to limit its services to civil cases rather than criminal ones.
Pro bono work
While it may sound strange, many attorneys, including very successful and well-established ones, do sometimes offer legal representation for free. This is referred to as pro bono work. Attorneys often work with a state’s bar association to provide free or low-cost legal advice to low income people or those who fit other requirements, such as being the victim of domestic violence or an undocumented immigrant. You can check with your own state’s bar association if they have any pro bono programs.
Law school clinics
One of the best ways law school students can prepare for their future careers is by participating in a law school clinic. Most U.S. law schools offer these clinics to low income individuals who live in the surrounding community. The clinics are operated by the law professors themselves, while the students make up the bulk of the staff and tend to interact the most with the members of the community being served. The professor’s presence offers some oversight in the clinics given that the students themselves, while highly trained, may lack real-world experience.
From legal aid societies to law school clinics, there are a surprising number of ways people can benefit from low-cost or even free legal advice. As court costs continue to rise, keeping free legal options available helps ensure that everybody, no matter their income levels, can continue to enjoy unfettered access to the justice system.