Free or Low-cost Legal Resources

Reviewed Aug 8, 2016

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Summary

Services that may be available to you:

  • Free legal services
  • Specialized programs
  • Small claims court and advisory services

It’s almost a sure thing that, at some point, you will need to go to court or get help with a legal matter. You may get an eviction notice. An ex-spouse may try to keep you away from your kids. Someone may demand money from you. Someone may owe you money and refuse to pay. You could be charged with a crime.

In most of these cases, you don’t have the knowledge to go it alone. So where do you go for free or low-cost help? The answer depends on your income and the issue you’re facing. Most of the time, you should be able to get free help if you make below a certain amount of money. You have less choice if you don’t meet the low-income test. But you may find lawyers at a fair cost through referral services. And if you have to sue someone, small claims court is open to you as a low-cost option.

Here’s a summary of the services you’ll find, and how to ask for them:

Criminal defense. The U.S. Constitution gives you the right to free legal defense if you cannot pay for a lawyer and are charged with a crime. But first you have to ask. The American Bar Association (ABA) says you should request “appointment of counsel” the first time you appear in court. You will get free legal help if you are found to be “indigent”—that is, too poor to pay for your own lawyer.

If you are being treated for a mental illness and you’re arrested, ask for the “crisis intervention team.”

Free legal services. In civil (non-criminal) cases, you don’t have a constitutional right to a lawyer. But you can still get legal help from many programs.

One of these is the network of Legal Services offices. These are funded by the federal government and run locally. You may find one listed under “Legal Aid” or “Legal Services” in your local phone book.

You can also use the web. Start at the ABA’s "Consumers' Guide to Legal Help" at http://apps.americanbar.org/legalservices/findlegalhelp/faq_freehelp.cfm. Click your state on the map and then click “Free Legal Help.” At the next page to appear, click “Legal Services.”

How do you know if you can get free legal services? There’s a good chance you’re eligible if you already get benefits under Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). To see qualifying income levels, go to www.abanet.org/legalservices/findlegalhelp/faq_freehelp.cfm. Scroll down to the table.

Pro bono programs. These can offer you free counsel or services (such as preparing documents) from legal clinics. Or they may refer you to a lawyer who will help you for free. Income limits apply, but they may be higher than those for federally funded legal services. You can find a list of pro bono programs at the ABA’s “Free Legal Help” web page for your state (see above).       
  
Specialized programs. Some programs focus on people with special circumstances. If you are disabled, elderly, or the victim of abuse, one of these may be right for you. For a listing at the ABA website, go to www.abanet.org/legalservices/findlegalhelp/usa_freehelp.cfm.

People with disabilities, including mental illness, can get help from the programs in each state specifically for them. Go to the National Disability Rights Network at www.ndrn.org/about/paacap-network.html to learn more about these. Click the link under “Need Help?”
 
Lawyer referral services. These do not necessarily point you toward low-cost help. But they can help you clarify your needs and find the right lawyer for your situation. They also can tell you if you qualify for free legal services or pro bono programs. Look for referral services that meet ABA standards. Among other things, they agree not to tack on any fees on top of the lawyers’ normal charges.     

Small claims court and advisory services. If you need to sue—to get paid for work you’ve done, for instance—you may be able to take your case to small claims court. To qualify, your claim has to be for no more than a certain amount, like a few thousand dollars. You don’t need a lawyer. In fact, lawyers aren’t allowed to represent either side. 

Many courts have small claims legal advisory services. These do not give legal advice on your case. But they can direct you to legal information, help you fill out forms and answer your questions about court procedure.

To find out about small claims court in your area, go to www.lawhelp.org and click your state name in the menu at "Find Help Near You Now." Next, click “Consumer and Small Claims,” and then “Small Claims.”

By Tom Gray

Summary

Services that may be available to you:

  • Free legal services
  • Specialized programs
  • Small claims court and advisory services

It’s almost a sure thing that, at some point, you will need to go to court or get help with a legal matter. You may get an eviction notice. An ex-spouse may try to keep you away from your kids. Someone may demand money from you. Someone may owe you money and refuse to pay. You could be charged with a crime.

In most of these cases, you don’t have the knowledge to go it alone. So where do you go for free or low-cost help? The answer depends on your income and the issue you’re facing. Most of the time, you should be able to get free help if you make below a certain amount of money. You have less choice if you don’t meet the low-income test. But you may find lawyers at a fair cost through referral services. And if you have to sue someone, small claims court is open to you as a low-cost option.

Here’s a summary of the services you’ll find, and how to ask for them:

Criminal defense. The U.S. Constitution gives you the right to free legal defense if you cannot pay for a lawyer and are charged with a crime. But first you have to ask. The American Bar Association (ABA) says you should request “appointment of counsel” the first time you appear in court. You will get free legal help if you are found to be “indigent”—that is, too poor to pay for your own lawyer.

If you are being treated for a mental illness and you’re arrested, ask for the “crisis intervention team.”

Free legal services. In civil (non-criminal) cases, you don’t have a constitutional right to a lawyer. But you can still get legal help from many programs.

One of these is the network of Legal Services offices. These are funded by the federal government and run locally. You may find one listed under “Legal Aid” or “Legal Services” in your local phone book.

You can also use the web. Start at the ABA’s "Consumers' Guide to Legal Help" at http://apps.americanbar.org/legalservices/findlegalhelp/faq_freehelp.cfm. Click your state on the map and then click “Free Legal Help.” At the next page to appear, click “Legal Services.”

How do you know if you can get free legal services? There’s a good chance you’re eligible if you already get benefits under Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). To see qualifying income levels, go to www.abanet.org/legalservices/findlegalhelp/faq_freehelp.cfm. Scroll down to the table.

Pro bono programs. These can offer you free counsel or services (such as preparing documents) from legal clinics. Or they may refer you to a lawyer who will help you for free. Income limits apply, but they may be higher than those for federally funded legal services. You can find a list of pro bono programs at the ABA’s “Free Legal Help” web page for your state (see above).       
  
Specialized programs. Some programs focus on people with special circumstances. If you are disabled, elderly, or the victim of abuse, one of these may be right for you. For a listing at the ABA website, go to www.abanet.org/legalservices/findlegalhelp/usa_freehelp.cfm.

People with disabilities, including mental illness, can get help from the programs in each state specifically for them. Go to the National Disability Rights Network at www.ndrn.org/about/paacap-network.html to learn more about these. Click the link under “Need Help?”
 
Lawyer referral services. These do not necessarily point you toward low-cost help. But they can help you clarify your needs and find the right lawyer for your situation. They also can tell you if you qualify for free legal services or pro bono programs. Look for referral services that meet ABA standards. Among other things, they agree not to tack on any fees on top of the lawyers’ normal charges.     

Small claims court and advisory services. If you need to sue—to get paid for work you’ve done, for instance—you may be able to take your case to small claims court. To qualify, your claim has to be for no more than a certain amount, like a few thousand dollars. You don’t need a lawyer. In fact, lawyers aren’t allowed to represent either side. 

Many courts have small claims legal advisory services. These do not give legal advice on your case. But they can direct you to legal information, help you fill out forms and answer your questions about court procedure.

To find out about small claims court in your area, go to www.lawhelp.org and click your state name in the menu at "Find Help Near You Now." Next, click “Consumer and Small Claims,” and then “Small Claims.”

By Tom Gray

Summary

Services that may be available to you:

  • Free legal services
  • Specialized programs
  • Small claims court and advisory services

It’s almost a sure thing that, at some point, you will need to go to court or get help with a legal matter. You may get an eviction notice. An ex-spouse may try to keep you away from your kids. Someone may demand money from you. Someone may owe you money and refuse to pay. You could be charged with a crime.

In most of these cases, you don’t have the knowledge to go it alone. So where do you go for free or low-cost help? The answer depends on your income and the issue you’re facing. Most of the time, you should be able to get free help if you make below a certain amount of money. You have less choice if you don’t meet the low-income test. But you may find lawyers at a fair cost through referral services. And if you have to sue someone, small claims court is open to you as a low-cost option.

Here’s a summary of the services you’ll find, and how to ask for them:

Criminal defense. The U.S. Constitution gives you the right to free legal defense if you cannot pay for a lawyer and are charged with a crime. But first you have to ask. The American Bar Association (ABA) says you should request “appointment of counsel” the first time you appear in court. You will get free legal help if you are found to be “indigent”—that is, too poor to pay for your own lawyer.

If you are being treated for a mental illness and you’re arrested, ask for the “crisis intervention team.”

Free legal services. In civil (non-criminal) cases, you don’t have a constitutional right to a lawyer. But you can still get legal help from many programs.

One of these is the network of Legal Services offices. These are funded by the federal government and run locally. You may find one listed under “Legal Aid” or “Legal Services” in your local phone book.

You can also use the web. Start at the ABA’s "Consumers' Guide to Legal Help" at http://apps.americanbar.org/legalservices/findlegalhelp/faq_freehelp.cfm. Click your state on the map and then click “Free Legal Help.” At the next page to appear, click “Legal Services.”

How do you know if you can get free legal services? There’s a good chance you’re eligible if you already get benefits under Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). To see qualifying income levels, go to www.abanet.org/legalservices/findlegalhelp/faq_freehelp.cfm. Scroll down to the table.

Pro bono programs. These can offer you free counsel or services (such as preparing documents) from legal clinics. Or they may refer you to a lawyer who will help you for free. Income limits apply, but they may be higher than those for federally funded legal services. You can find a list of pro bono programs at the ABA’s “Free Legal Help” web page for your state (see above).       
  
Specialized programs. Some programs focus on people with special circumstances. If you are disabled, elderly, or the victim of abuse, one of these may be right for you. For a listing at the ABA website, go to www.abanet.org/legalservices/findlegalhelp/usa_freehelp.cfm.

People with disabilities, including mental illness, can get help from the programs in each state specifically for them. Go to the National Disability Rights Network at www.ndrn.org/about/paacap-network.html to learn more about these. Click the link under “Need Help?”
 
Lawyer referral services. These do not necessarily point you toward low-cost help. But they can help you clarify your needs and find the right lawyer for your situation. They also can tell you if you qualify for free legal services or pro bono programs. Look for referral services that meet ABA standards. Among other things, they agree not to tack on any fees on top of the lawyers’ normal charges.     

Small claims court and advisory services. If you need to sue—to get paid for work you’ve done, for instance—you may be able to take your case to small claims court. To qualify, your claim has to be for no more than a certain amount, like a few thousand dollars. You don’t need a lawyer. In fact, lawyers aren’t allowed to represent either side. 

Many courts have small claims legal advisory services. These do not give legal advice on your case. But they can direct you to legal information, help you fill out forms and answer your questions about court procedure.

To find out about small claims court in your area, go to www.lawhelp.org and click your state name in the menu at "Find Help Near You Now." Next, click “Consumer and Small Claims,” and then “Small Claims.”

By Tom Gray

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, quizzes, and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, health care, psychiatric, psychological or behavioral health care advice. Nothing contained on the Achieve Solutions site is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care professional. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your health care provider.  ©2017 Beacon Health Options, Inc.

 

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