How to Hire a Lawyer When You Have Low Income
Whether you need to draw up a will or get a divorce, it’s not advisable to take care of legal matters without a lawyer. You need someone who understands the laws in your state to help you navigate the paperwork and appear with you in court.
Lawyers can be expensive, but there are several ways to retain a lawyer if you have low income. You can contact a legal aid society, find an independent pro bono lawyer, or arrange a payment plan that works for your budget.
Finding Free Legal Help
1) Look into federally funded legal aid programs. There is a large network of legal aid programs that operate on federal grants. Legal aid programs employ lawyers and paralegals to offer free services to people who are eligible.
?? If you need help with divorce proceedings, employment issues, landlord and tenant issues, and a number of other legal problems, legal aid programs are an excellent resource.
?? To qualify for legal aid, your income must be below a certain number. The definition of “low income” varies from state to state. In many states, your income must be below the federal poverty line. You can find that information here.
?? To find out if you qualify, contact your local legal aid office.
?? To find a legal aid office, look online or look up “legal aid” in the phone directory in your area.
2) Find a local pro bono program. Bar associations often offer free legal help through pro bono programs. Lawyers willing to work for free, or “pro bono,” are matched with people who qualify for free legal advice. There are also nonprofits dedicated to providing pro bono legal help to those in need. Research pro bono programs in your area by looking online or contacting a legal aid office to get a referral.
?? In order to qualify for a pro bono program, you may be asked to prove that your income is below a certain amount.
?? Many local bar associations also offer programs that reduce or eliminate legal fees. They may also have a referral service that includes a free initial consultation with an attorney. Contact your local bar association, or visit the American Bar Association for more information.
?? Many private law firms also have pro bono departments. These programs usually focus on specific community issues, such as police misconduct, civil rights issues, or suits against the government.
?? You can do a web search to find a private firm in your area by searching for “private law firms + pro bono work.” LawHelp.org also has a search feature for free legal aid programs in your state.
3) Contact a self help legal clinic. Many states have free self help clinics designed to provide free legal advice to anyone who asks. Some clinics accept questions in person, while others accept questions submitted online. The questions are typically answered by lawyers or paralegals. In many, but not all, cases the process is confidential.
?? Self help clinics are good resources when you have a question or two about the process you need to undertake, or which forms to fill out. However, they are not a substitute for actually retaining a lawyer who can help with your case.
?? To find a self help program, call your local courthouse or look online. If you find a program that accepts questions in person, arrive as early as you can to ensure that you are helped.
?? Most of the programs held by courthouses focus on specific legal issues, so make sure that you attend the right program for help with your particular issue. For example, some courts might run a “domestic relations clinic” that can help you with matters like uncontested divorces and child support modifications. These programs may also help you find a low-cost lawyer if the program cannot legally represent you.
?? District courts may hold programs that help with will planning, personal injury, landlord-tenant law, and debt collection.
?? If the program is held at a civil court, it will not likely be able to help you in criminal issues.
4) Call a legal hotline. Legal hotlines provide advice for people in specific situations, such as victims of domestic abuse. In some cases the advice is free, and in other cases it is very low cost. Do a search for legal hotlines in your state, and find one that will give advice appropriate to your situation.
?? It’s important to call a hotline in your state of residence. The laws differ from state to state, so you might get the wrong advice if you call a hotline in another state.
?? For example, many bar associations in Texas run a “Legal Line” on certain days of the week. These hotlines can help victims of domestic violence, people facing employment issues, and the elderly.
5) See if a local law school has a clinic program that offers free legal services. Many law schools run legal clinics in order to give the law students experience. Clinics can take general civil or criminal matters, or they can be geared toward one type of legal case, such as a foreclosure relief clinic or a domestic violence clinic. Legal help in the clinic is usually offered by law students who are supervised by experienced law professors.
?? The law students themselves are not licensed attorneys. However, they are heavily supervised by experienced lawyers who will make sure that everything on your case is done correctly.
?? To find a legal clinic, look on the websites of law schools in your area.
6) Get a court-appointed lawyer. If you are the defendant in a criminal case, you have the right to an attorney. If you can’t afford to hire a private attorney, you might be eligible to get a court-appointed defense attorney. You’ll need to provide information about your income to show that you aren’t able to hire a private attorney.
?? The first time you appear in front of the judge, you will be asked whether you are represented by an attorney. If you answer no, you’ll be asked whether you want a court-appointed attorney. From there, the procedure for working with the court-appointed attorney varies from state to state.
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