By David Pilley
on November 29, 2011
Many people are afraid to get legal aid because it can be expensive. Attorneys may charge high rates, and multiple court appearances will add even more costs. Never fear, because low cost or free legal aid
is available in all 50 states, and there are a number of ways to qualify for it.
Having a low household income
is one way to qualify. Most legal aid clinics and attorneys doing pro bono work are available to those whose household income is less than 125 percent of the national poverty level. You may have to prove to the court that you are indigent
, meaning you lacks funds for necessities. You can also qualify for low cost or free legal aid if you receive financial assistance
, such as Social Security, food stamps, or developmentally disabled assistance.
If you have been accused of a crime
, the court may appoint you a public defender, someone who can represent you if you are unable to afford an attorney. This right is protected under Gideon v. Wainwright
and the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution. Further qualifications for potential free legal aid include being a victim of domestic violence, being an immigrant or a disabled veteran, or being involved with a civil rights issue (for example, being discriminated at work or losing a job because of a reason not related to your work habits).
There are many different types of legal aid who can help you, depending on what you need. A public defender
is only necessary if you have been accused of a crime and are going to trial. If you cannot afford an attorney, the court will assign you a public defender, and he/she will be with you for the entirety of the trial, as well as during a subsequent appeal.
A social justice organization
can help you if you are a victim of civil rights discrimination. Examples include being sexually harassed at work, having your freedom of speech violated, or losing a job based on your sex, race, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs. Specific social justice organizations include the NAACP and the ACLU.
Legal aid clinics
and pro bono
services are available to those with low income. They may be able to help with a wide range of matters, from procuring documents for immigrants to legal issues for people living with HIV/AIDS. Government funding for these services are limited, so lawyers can only take a few cases. Also remember that “pro bono” does not necessarily mean free. Lawyers usually do pro bono work because they take great interest in the case (and also because they believe the general public will also be interested in the case), but they may charge some fees, albeit reduced from their typical work.
You may also be able to find free legal aid from law school
clinics. Under the supervision of an attorney, law students may provide a multitude of services, including drafting legal documents and client interviews; they may conduct their services in a number of fields, such as family law, health care issues, or financial assistance.
is a website that offers more information in great detail. It also offers a list of legal aid resources in all 50 states, and it can be a good place to start your search for qualified attorneys and affordable legal help.