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Types of Free Legal Services

Legal services are often thought to be one of the more expensive things a person may need during their life. Fortunately, there are many places you can look for free or low-cost legal services. The government, law firms, and even law schools are among possible sources of free legal aid.

Free legal answers are hard to come by. Only attorneys can give legal advice — and only if you are a client. The Rules of Professional Conduct and state laws prohibit a non-lawyer from giving legal advice. Free legal resources are readily available online, at courthouses, and in libraries. To find legal help for more serious matters, such as child custody or foreclosure, you will need a lawyer referral service.

Below is a summary of the types of free legal services that may be available in your state.

Public Defenders

If you have been arrested and charged with a crime, you may be dreading heading to court, especially if you do not have the resources to afford a private attorney. You may be entitled to obtain legal services without charge. Under the U.S. Constitution, you have the right to free legal services for your criminal trial if you cannot afford an attorney of your own.

Often, these attorneys are appointed by a judge from a public defender's office when you are formally charged with criminal counts. This attorney will be assigned to your case for the duration of your criminal trial, as well as your first appeal if you lose the initial criminal case. To find out more, you can contact your local public defender's office.

Legal Aid Clinics

Civil legal aid is not constitutionally guaranteed. If you think you need to file a lawsuit to protect your interests, but you can't afford a private lawyer, you may qualify for legal aid. Legal aid providers and attorneys often receive funds from the government and are normally tasked with taking on low-income cases.

Because of their limited funding, however, legal aid societies and lawyers can usually only take on a select few cases. The lawsuits that legal aid attorneys normally litigate involve denial of unemployment benefits, Social Security benefits, consumer credit issues, and eviction and other landlord-tenant lawsuits.

Most legal aid organizations only take cases from low-income individuals whose income is below 125% of the state poverty level. Contact a local bar association to get in touch with a legal aid society. They can help you find out if you qualify for free legal services.

Some self-help centers, such as the courthouse legal aid office, can only provide legal information. They can explain how to fill out and file forms, but they cannot give legal advice. If you need more than that, you will need to speak with an attorney.

Personal Injury Attorneys on Contingency

Many personal injury attorneys take cases on a contingency fee basis. That means you do not pay anything to the attorney upfront, and the lawyer only gets paid if you get paid. Contingency fee arrangements are useful in cases where you have no money to pay an attorney but need legal representation for your case.

Contingency fees work on a percentage basis. The fee agreement gives a percentage of the settlement to the attorney as payment for legal services. The percentage is set by state law or the state bar association. It's usually capped at roughly 35% of the settlement. A contingency fee agreement can include attorney fees and costs, such as filing fees.

Pro Bono Services

The American Bar Association and state bar associations require attorneys in private practice and in firms to set aside a portion of their time for pro bono cases. As with community legal aid clinics, pro bono services typically are offered to individuals whose combined household income is less than 125% of the federal poverty level. Depending on your legal needs, pro bono lawyers may provide the free legal advice you need for your case.

Nonprofit Legal Aid

Nonprofit agencies provide low-cost or free legal services if your legal issues involve a social justice matter. These legal problems include racial discrimination, domestic violence, landlord-tenant disputes, and similar matters.

Organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the Los Angeles LGBT Center provide legal assistance and lawyer referral services for low-income people.

Law School Legal Clinics

You can find free legal services at many law school legal clinics that provide free legal help to low-income clients. Law students offer assistance under the supervision of an attorney (usually a clinical professor).

Generally, this type of pro bono work is offered in one or more particular areas, including family law, elder law, landlord-tenant issues, health care law, and financial assistance. Moreover, law students can provide a range of legal services. These include but are not limited to research and writing, drafting legal documents, client interviews, negotiation, and court preparation.

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