Legal Aid & Legal Clinics – For Me Or Not For Me?
What are Legal Aid and Legal Clinics?
Legal aids are non-profit organizations that provide free legal services for low-income individuals. The most well-known is the Legal Aid Society, a non-profit based in New York City. Founded in 1876 as the first legal office for low-income people in the nation, it is the oldest and largest legal aid provider in the United States. While New York City is home to the original Legal Aid Society, there are now legal aid services across the country in major cities and beyond.
The attorneys at legal aid organizations represent clients for criminal and civil matters for individual and class-action lawsuits. Who pays for it? Funding for legal aids comes from private donations and public grants—legal services are free for those who qualify.
Legal clinics, on the other hand, are law school programs that provide services to various clients. They also offer hands-on legal experience for law school students. Clinical professors usually direct clinics. They are specialized in the law area that they handle and can help with criminal or civil issues. A law school may have many clinics within it. The type of clinics a law school has depends on its professors and areas of expertise. The local legal aid may also have a clinic at a law school.
How do I qualify for their legal services?
Since legal aid and legal clinics provide free services, you must qualify for their help. The qualifications vary by clinic and organization, but being a low-income earner is a minimum requirement across the board. The exact number for the income requirement varies by state. If your household income is 125 percent below the federally recognized poverty level, you will be eligible for most legal aids. If you are unsure if your income qualifies you, don’t hesitate to call your local clinic or legal aid and ask.
In addition to income qualifications, many clinics or legal aid organizations have other requirements to qualify. Disabled veterans have many free legal services that are available to them across the country. Immigrants, victims of domestic violence, those living with HIV/AIDS, and those on public aid programs generally have other qualifiers for legal aid programs in their city.
Were you accused of a crime? It is your constitutional right to be appointed an attorney. The sixth amendment to the United States Constitution ensures that. You may have heard of your Miranda Rights. The line, “You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you,” makes sure that in criminal court, you have a lawyer.
Although you have the right to an attorney in a criminal case, this does not apply to civil cases. In many civil courts, such as family, you can appear in court pro-se, which means you represent yourself. A lawyer will not be automatically assigned to you, so remember to seek counsel if you need it.
Where can I find a local legal aid or clinic?
If you are in legal trouble, the courts usually have a list of local legal aids and clinics where you can start. There is usually a Legal Aid in most major cities, so type in your city and Legal Aid and see what comes up in an internet search. You can also search the internet for the law schools in your area. Law school websites often list available legal clinics.
Each state and county also has a bar association, which is an association of licensed attorneys. That bar association can point you to local legal aids and clinics as well. Give legal aids and clinics a call first to see if you qualify for their services. If not, they usually provide resources to call to see if any attorneys are doing pro-bono work and can take your case for little cost.
How can I get legal advice today?
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By: Joanna Smykowski
The Legal Aid Society, About Us.
FindLaw, Do You Qualify For Free Legal Aid?
MirandaWarning.org, What Are Your Miranda Rights?