Legal Aid For Low Income
Legal aid for low income individuals is not a new concept. In 1974 an independent nonprofit was established by Congress. This program is called Legal Services Corporation (LSC) and it provides funds to more than 100 legal aid organizations throughout the nation. Some form of the LSC exists in all states. If you find yourself in need of legal help but do not have the ability to pay then you may qualify for legal aid.
Aside from the federal program offering legal aid for low income individuals, the American Bar Association, which is the governing body for lawyers, has its own assistive service. The Bar Association offers free legal advice to those who are unable to afford a session with a lawyer. Volunteer lawyers donate their time each month to help those less fortunate. They also offer pro bono services, which is where they take on cases for free. Learn more about how legal aid can assist you, below.
What is Legal Aid?
If you and your household are considered impoverished, meaning you make at or below the poverty threshold of 125 percent, then you qualify. That means that your entire household makes no more than $31,000 for a family of four. The LSC states that almost 70 percent of their clients are women who are struggling to leave a domestic situation unfit for themselves and their children. Others include homeowners and renters, veterans, farmers, the disabled and the elderly.
Many of the cases the LSC-funded legal aid offices handle include family law, housing issues, consumer issues, helping veterans receive benefits, and those meeting obstacles with employment or workplace claims. In many cases the LSC law offices help victims of domestic violence leave the harmful situation and find shelter. Other family law issues may include custody issues involving children after a divorce or other event. Landlord-tenant cases are the second largest type of cases the LSC practices handle, as well as helping to mitigate foreclosures.
Why Does Legal Aid Exist?
Legal aid was created by congress because of the dire need for legal representation for the nation’s poorest members. The LSC states that almost a million people looking for help with civil cases are turned away each year because there are not enough LSC-funded law offices. This creates what is termed a “justice gap”. This means that a large number of poor Americans never get the help they need. It also means that in a large number of cases they are taken advantage of, larger, wealthier businesses get away with gross injustices, and many women and children end up remaining in an abusive environment. LSC reports that while they help millions each year, that much or more have to be turned away because of inadequate resources. Legal Aid exists to help America’s poorest, but the program is not without its flaws. The American Bar Association has helped to alleviate some of this load and taking its cues from the LSC, offers some services for free.
Where to Find Legal Aid
The LSC, itself, is not a law firm. They cannot take on a case or give advice. However, they are the funding operation for those law practices who can take your case. Currently there are 134 law practices offering free legal aid throughout the U.S. To find the nearest office to you, use this handy search tool. You can also search for lawyers who may take on your case for free, or pro bono. The Bar Association maintains their own listings for lawyers willing to take on cases for free. If you simply have a question that you need to ask a lawyer, for example whether you have a case and should proceed with legal action, the Bar Association offers free legal answers online. The lawyers working with the Bar Association are not paid for their time. It is offered on a strictly volunteer basis.
How to Apply for Legal Aid
Each state has their own criteria for applying for legal aid. Since the LSC is a nonprofit and operated from funding received from Congress, you must be declared legally low income before you can apply. The Bar Association has its own rules governing whom they may or may not service. Pro Bono cases are often not determined by income, but by the case. In some cases, regardless of the state you are in, if you are in a dangerous situation then you qualify automatically. If you have been accused of a crime and are low income then you may be assigned a court-appointed attorney, sometimes called a public defender. Those who are, or were, in the Military are given preference as well. Legal Aid can assist with a wide range of legal issues. When you locate the office near you, be prepared with the following documentation:
- Proof of income: can include bank statements or tax returns.
- Proof of Identity: Driver’s License, Government Issued ID.
- Health Status
- Safety Status
- Know whether your case is a civil or criminal