Legal aid is the delivery of legal assistance to individuals who are unable to pursue the legal system on their own and cannot afford legal counsel. Legal aid is often considered to be pivotal in providing access to the courts, ensuring equality in the justice system, and the legal right to a fair trial before the court. It also relieves individuals of the cost of high-priced legal fees. The word “legal” and “aid” have an association that is not clear at first. It can sometimes be difficult to tell if someone you know needs legal assistance or if they just need help navigating the legal system.
Three distinct types of legal aid
Non-adversarial legal aid
There are three distinct types of legal aid. The first is non-adversarial legal aid, which is available to individuals regardless of their financial status. Individuals with very low incomes, along with single mothers, children enrolled in school, separated spouses, and veterans all benefit from this type of legal aid. It is primarily geared toward providing assistance with everyday legal costs associated with separation, divorce, property disputes, child support, protecting financial assets, and protecting a person’s rights such as against domestic violence.
Transactional legal aid
Another type of legal aid available is transactional. This means-tested funding, which is intended to assist with the expenses associated with even the most frivolous civil cases. This includes things such as giving witness testimony, producing records, gathering documents, and hiring a lawyer, among many others. In order to apply, an applicant must have an acceptable level of financial eligibility along with a demonstrated need for legal assistance.
Another type of program that offers assistance to those who cannot afford legal counsel is known as duty counsel. Duty counsel is designed specifically for those who cannot afford to retain a private attorney. Duty counsel is administered by volunteer attorneys who work on a pro-bono basis. By choosing to take on these types of cases, attorneys are not paid for the work that they do. Instead, they are reimbursed after successfully defending the client in court. For those who may not be able to afford legal counsel, duty counsel is a great resource.
State Bar Association
Those who cannot get legal aid through one of the above methods may be able to get legal aid through the State Bar Association. The State Bar Association’s website offers information about where you can go to apply to be admitted to the bar and about different types of lawyers. Once you have been admitted to the bar, you will need to complete an application that details your legal needs and your financial circumstances. You will then be sent a notice regarding how to pay your fees. The fee schedule will be based on your income. The purpose of this type of funding is to give lawyers affordable ways to help those who may be unable to pay for private legal services.
There is also the Certificate Program. This type of program is much more affordable than going through the state bar and you don’t need to pay any lawyer fees. Those who qualify are limited to those with children who are between the ages of nine and seventeen. In order to be accepted into the program, you must meet the minimum educational requirements as well as have a checking or savings account that is at least six months old.
Civil legal aid clinic
Another option for those interested in legal aid funding is a civil legal aid clinic. These clinics are located in all cities across the country and serve as a resource for those who may not be able to find affordable legal services due to their low-income status. Clinics offer basic legal assistance such as making an application for a legal aid clinic loan, filing a legal aid request for documents, and answering legal questions. Sometimes freelance lawyers work in such places. Many clinics also offer a free legal consultation either by phone or in person. Many offer free legal publications as well as educational classes for those interested in learning about legal issues and practices.
Those with legal aid funding can choose between two different programs which allow them to receive monetary assistance either by receiving cash awards directly from the legal aid clinic or by enrolling in an approved Certificate Program. The certificate program requires proof that a recipient is employed, has a checking or savings account that is at least six months old and has an annual gross family income of at least 150% of the current federal poverty level. Students enrolled in the certificate program will receive detailed instructions from their legal aid office on how to complete the program. Students who successfully completed the program are awarded a certificate stating that they have passed the program. In order to be approved for this program, students must have received a grade point average of at least 2.5.