Options for People Looking for Affordable Legal Aid

Legal aid in the United States is painfully expensive. In fact, an article that appeared on the American Judges Association official website claimed that a sizeable number of family law and other smaller civil law cases are self-represented. A major reason for this can be attributed to the 'relative scarcity of affordable legal services'. People often choose to proceed without the help of a lawyer because their income does not allow them to afford one. A study conducted in 1994 found that 47 per cent of low income households experienced a new or existing need for legal help, but only 29 per cent of these were addressed by the judicial system; the rest remained unaddressed. Here are some options for people looking for affordable legal aid.

- Legal Aid Officers: Legal aid offices are established all over the country. These lawyers offer their services to low income people. Their services aren't for free, but at a subsidized cost. You would need to first ascertain if you qualify for legal aid.
- Paralegal Services: Paralegals are employed by lawyers to perform substantive work including recognition, evaluation, analysis and communication of relevant facts and concepts. People who choose to represent themselves can hire services of paralegals to help them draft correspondence and pleadings, write and file petitions, manage trial documents and court correspondence, attend and summarize depositions, and even attend execution of wills, real estate closings, and court hearings. They can also be hired to investigate the facts of a case. Needless to say, paralegals offer affordable legal aid when compared to the full cost of engaging a lawyer.Legal aid in the United States is painfully expensive. In fact, an article that appeared on the American Judges Association official website claimed that a sizeable number of family law and other smaller civil law cases are self-represented.

- Pro-Bono Lawyers: There are many professionals in the legal business for whom money isn't always the sole motive. These professionals often get a high when they use their knowledge and skill for the 'public-good' or pro-bono. Pro-bono programs are organized by local bar associations. Services in these programs range from offering free legal advice, to dealing with clients, to even training organizations on legal aspects. Sometimes it even includes advising such organizations on their employment and charity law. Some pro-bono lawyers offer virtual advice through websites.
- Public Defenders: Public Defenders are lawyers appointed by the court to people who cannot afford to defend themselves in criminal cases. They are compensated for their services by the government as salaried employees. In fact, a majority of criminals coming from a poor economic background depend on this system.

How to Obtain a Legal Aid Lawyer

Across the country, programs are being established to help persons who need legal assistance obtain the services of a legal aid lawyer at no cost. There are definite criteria that one has to meet in order to obtain legal services without the obligation to pay. Here are some of the general conditions one has to meet in order to obtain the help of an attorney who offers free legal aid.

One of the first things you have to do is locate programs that provide this sort of legal aid. There are several ways you can check for available programs in your area. Online, you can check the web site of the local chapter of the state's legal or attorney association. Often, there will be a section on legal aid there, including a list of attorneys who participate in the programs operating in different parts of the state. Locating your city and seeing which programs or attorneys offer free legal aid will provide you with a list of people to contact.

Second, you may also check for lists of attorneys that provide free legal aid at your local courthouse. These lists are usually available at no charge, so you can pick one up and begin to make some phone calls or drop by the offices listed. Usually someone at the office can provide you with basic of the qualifications you have to meet and also give you an application for the program.

Often, as part of qualifying for the services of a legal aid lawyer, you will need to be able to demonstrate your need. This will mean supplying details about how much you make, perhaps by turning in a recent pay stub. If you have outstanding debts, be able to document the current state of those accounts. Also be able to provide what you have to pay in the way of rent or house payments, estimates on food and utilities, and any other regular expenditures that have to be paid out of your net pay. The point is to make sure that persons who genuinely need the help are processed quickly and receive the support they need, and persons who are in fact able to pay but just don't want to do so will not get into the programs.
As part of the process for obtaining the help of a legal aid lawyer, you will need to fill out an application form, which will accompany the documentation that is required by the program. From there, you will be interviewed, often at least twice. The first interview usually occurs around the time you submit your application, and the second will be after the information you have submitted has been verified. At that point, you will usually learn if you have been accepted into the program or not.