Finding a lawyer when you need legal representation is a difficult task. First, simply being in need of an attorney means you’re in the midst of legal problems, which can be taxing. Second, not everyone can afford an attorney, making legal problems even more trying. Finding a good lawyer when you can’t afford to pay a lot of anything at all can be problematic. Thankfully, there are a number of resources available to any U.S. citizen who can’t afford a lawyer who finds himself or herself in need of legal counsel. Federal legal-aid programs, pro bono programs, legal clinics, law schools—these are some helpful free or low cost options that are available to those who can’t afford a lawyer when they need one. In fact, if you find yourself needing legal representation, there may even be a lawyer near you who can help if you can’t afford one.
Defendants in criminal cases have a right to an attorney; it’s in the Constitution. Those who are unable to pay for private defense attorneys can be eligible to receive legal representation by a court-appointed defense lawyer. It’s important to note that you will be expected to provide income information in order to show you can’t afford a private attorney. At your first hearing, the judge will inquire if you have legal representation. If you answer that you cannot afford an attorney, you will be asked if you wish to be provided with a court-appointed attorney.
Federal programs exist for those who cannot afford an attorney, even if they are not defendants in a criminal case. Landlord/tenant problems, divorce proceedings, employment issues, and other legal problems can all be assisted by federally funded legal-aid programs. In order to be eligible for many federally funded programs, your income must come in below the poverty level established by the government, which can vary from one state to another. Type ‘legal aid’ along with your city or town into your internet browser of choice in order to find legal aid programs in your area.
The term ‘pro bono publico’ is a Latin phrase used in a number of areas, but it is most notably used by lawyers. It means “for the public good,” and in law firms, it refers to free programs that offer legal representation to those who cannot afford a lawyer. Bar associations can offer free legal assistance through pro bono programs because lawyers are willing, in some cases, to work for free. These associations can match potential clients in need with local pro bono programs provided by certain law firms. In this case as above, you will need to provide your income information, as your income will be expected to be below a designated point. Contact your local bar association in order to be matched with a pro bono program, or contact the American Bar Association for further details.
Law schools often have legal clinic programs that can provide free legal services to those in need. These legal clinics can provide legal assistance whether you’re in need of criminal defense or your case is a civil one, such as divorce, domestic violence, or foreclosure. It’s important to note that law students are not permitted to practice law, but they are supported and supervised by experienced law professors who will help with your case. To locate a legal clinic, check the websites of law schools in your area.
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees that all criminal defendants have the right to a lawyer, whether they can afford one or not. However, there is no such protection for those who are not criminal defendants. Perhaps you are in need of an attorney in your divorce. Or maybe you’re in another type of legal bind that is not covered under the Sixth Amendment. If you’re in need of legal counsel but you can’t afford a lawyer, there are so many more options available to you than ever before. Consult with a lawyer near you to learn of further pro bono programs. You can also check with local bar associations or the American Bar Association for further information regarding the many options available to you if you are unable to afford an attorney.