The American Constitution guarantees "equal justice for all", but it is ironic that this justice comes at a price... a steep one at that! Law firms and lawyers clamor for the maximum number of billable hours possible in a day and obviously, not everyone has the means or resources to afford competent and professional legal advice. The provision of legal aid services is meant to fill this lacuna in the present legal system, giving low-income and indigent people access to legal assistance, which would otherwise not be available to them.
There are both free and paid legal aid services and not everyone is eligible for the former. The free services are available to those individuals whose subsistence levels are extremely low (below poverty line), are destitute or aged or unable to make ends meet and cannot even afford the basic necessities of life on their own. This article is a primer on how to look for and find free legal aid services.
Scope of services
Free legal aid services are usually provided by government-sponsored agencies, non-profit organizations funded by private donations and sometimes, large law firms with a separate legal aid department as part of community engagement or corporate social responsibility (CSR) principles.
The services provided may range across the following areas:
- Housing and property
- Contractual disputes
- Loss of benefits, wages, discrimination and harassment
- Insolvency or bankruptcy
- Medical negligence, workplace injuries, disability, etc.
- Domestic violence, divorce, custody and child support.
Resources for finding free legal aid services
- Legal Services Corporation (LSC), tasked with disbursing federal funding and grants to non-profit legal aid agencies across the US, in order to provide legal assistance to individuals in low income groups (LIG) in the civil law domain. Details of agencies funded by LSC are available on the website, listed by state.
- American Bar Association (ABA) provides a list of federal and state resources for securing free legal aid. The association also provides a detailed consumer guide where questions on eligibility for free legal assistance and other queries are answered.
- State-level bar associations list entities which provide legal aid in that state. For example, the Michigan State Bar Foundation sponsors MichiganLegalAid, which provides free legal assistance to senior citizens and people in LIGs.
- Non-profit public interest law firms, such as Central California Legal Services provide free legal advice and representation to poor people in six counties.
- Local Yellow Pages or legal directories, where services are advertised, as also other print and film media.
- Law schools and colleges which run legal aid clinics, where law students in their second year or upwards, provide legal counsel in simple civil law matters, under the guidance and tutelage of the faculty.
- Hundreds of resources on the Internet by typing in keyword phrases such as "free legal aid services".
With a little bit of effort and patience and using the resources mentioned in this article will help looking for free legal aid services, an easy and simple task.