Where to Find Cheap or Free Legal Aid

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Even those that aren’t involved in an ongoing case have a hard time getting legal advice on issues that affect them. For those with low incomes and little to no possibilities of paying for legal aid, it can be a rather arduous task to accomplish. Nonetheless, if you look in the right places, it is possible to find pro bono as well as cheap legal services in a variety of fields, or even to simply get answers to your legal questions in online forums.
Here are a few ideas on getting cheap or even free legal aid:

Department of Justice

The US Department of Justice, offers legal help for people with little or no money. They have a list of pro bono legal counseling services, organized by state. You can view this list at the US DOJ website.

American Bar Association

The American Bar Association (ABA) also provides a list of pro bono legal service providers as part of their Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service; the list is fairly extensive, and offers great insight into the subject. This list can be viewed at the ABA website. Similarly, find a map view pro bono opportunities finder through the ABA ‘s ProBono.Net site. A very useful tool indeed.

Private Organizations

Free lawyers can be had, but you just need to know who and where the right organizations are. The above lists are obviously going to help you orient yourself in the field, but we’ll name a few particulars with reputations that precede them:

  • A few honorable mentions would have to start with LawHelp, which provides some of the most effective linking services between clients in need and lawyers willing to work for free or at severely reduced rates.
  • The sponsor of LawHelp is another pro bono service, ProBono.Net, where you’ll find all the latest news on the pro bono field as well as invaluable search options to help you find the assistance you need, within your budget.
  • LawHelp is the client-based site, whereas ProBono.Net is the attorney-based site, both of the same larger organization: both of them are worth checking out.
  • Two other sites operating more or less in the same vein are ISC of the Legal Services Corporation, and USAttorneyLegalServices, where you will be able to find a wealth of additional information and possible legal aid opportunities.

Online Forums

Thanks to modern telecommunications technology, people don’t need to always go down to a law firm’s offices, wait in line, and pay a fee to get some advice, especially if all that is needed is an explanation of existing laws or an answer to a simple question.
It’s even possible to get free legal advice on more coplex, case-specific topics from some of the online legal forums on the net, and each individual in need of counsel will have to see what is and what isn’t able to be answered in these forums—there are no clear cut rules on the subject.
Good sites that offer professional and free legal advice include LawGuru and FreeAdvice, both of which host trained professionals willing to share their knowledge with the public. Free advice, like many other things in life, is really easy to come by these days on the web, and it seems that the virtual realm is more willing to provide this crucial service than the physical realm.

Specific Cases

Depending on who you are, you may have a support net already in place that will find cheap or low cost legal counseling for you in case you need it.

For example, current and former members of the military have their own pro bono project, courtesy of the American Bar Association, which can be visited at MilitaryProBono. People with terminal diseases, the homeless, and people living in subsidized housing usually have local and state resources available to them to advance in legal matters at little to no cost.

Exploiting Local Contacts

Beyond using all of the above avenues for legal aid for people with no money or limited funds, it’s always a good idea to exploit local contacts, within the legal field and outside of it.

  • If you have a lawyer friend, check with him to see if you can’t reach an arrangement.
  • Be willing to make an offer of work or services in exchange for free legal aid—use whatever skills you have as bargaining chips, like home repair, IT services, labor, etc.
  • Go down to your local library and read up on local legislation to get an idea on your own of what sort of legal panorama you are facing.
  • Go to the social services department of your local or state government to find out about any programs for legal help for the poor being offered at the moment.
  • Talk with people at church, both the priest (or rabbi, what have you) as well as other members of the congregation for ideas on how to meet the needs of your situation.
  • Go down to the local court house and ask around to see what lawyers are offering free counseling and services, and get to know the people working in the court: having a positive relationship with these people (file clerks, pages, secretaries) could spell an enormous difference in whatever legal process you happen to be in, especially if you’re doing it semi-solo, as is the case for many people without the money to pay for a lawyer.

Knowing Your Rights

Of course, it is important to keep in mind that any person accused of a crime has the constitutional right to legal defense, free of cost, should they not be able to afford it. Hence, if you have a lawsuit in which you are the accused, you should have a public defender appointed to you if you make it clear to the judge that you do not have the resources to pay for an attorney. If you wind up without the money to continue paying a lawyer already well into the case, you can always petition to have a public defender assigned to you.
Knowing your rights is a major part of making it through the overall process, with or without free legal aid.

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