If you require legal advice or representation, you need to hire an attorney. Not everyone can afford an attorney. Legal aid refers to a system where nonprofit organizations provide legal services to people who cannot afford an attorney. Such organizations are generally referred to as legal aid organizations or legal aid clinics.
Legal aid organizations provide legal representation for free. Sometimes they charge a nominal fee. They are run by attorneys and law students and are sponsored by charitable organizations, lawyers’ associations, and law schools, and by federal, state, and local governments. In some states these services are partially funded from the interest earned in law firm trust accounts.
Some attorneys also volunteer their services to provide aid. In some jurisdictions the court may appoint private attorneys to handle legal aid clients. Legal aid organizations deal with all types of legal issues but cannot help everyone with every legal problem. They do not handle some types of cases including criminal cases and fee-generating cases, like car accidents in which you want to make the other person pay for your injuries or the damage to your car. Even if they cannot represent you directly in a case, they may be able to tell you where to get help or give you advice that will help you handle the case yourself. These organizations generally handle the following legal issues:
· Denial of benefits including welfare, food stamps, medical assistance, supplemental security income, Social Security, and unemployment compensation.
· Housing problems including evictions, lockouts, confiscation of personal property, foreclosures, discrimination (racial and against families with children), disputes with landlords over repairs, rent, contracts, deposits or difficulties with public housing.
· Consumer issues including debt problems, contracts, warranties, repossessions, wage garnishments, discrimination, and counseling on small claims court and bankruptcy procedures.
· Family law issues including divorce, adoption, custody, support, visitation, guardianship, restraining orders, defense in paternity suits, and modification of decrees. Most organizations limit divorce representation to certain types of situations or offer services primarily through self-help classes.
· Senior law problems including Medicaid, Medicare, guardianship defense, and issues involving nursing homes or other types of care facilities.
· Juvenile matters including expulsion and suspension from school and other disputes involving schools.
Some organizations handle a limited number of cases in the area of immigration law.
The Office of Legal Services was created in 1964 to organize legal aid programs in different states. The Office was subsequently replaced by the Legal Services Corporation -private, nonprofit organization that provides financial support to legal aid agencies through the distribution of grants. It also supports attorneys and staff through training, research, and technical assistance.