This organization offers low-cost or free legal services to residents who have low income. The cases legal aid society handles and the guidelines for qualifying for any legal services differ by jurisdiction. The funding for this organization can come from national, regional, or local services. Legal aid society is usually a not-for-profit organization. The organization will generally have a board of directors that will determine what type of cases will be handled as well as who will qualify to receive their services. There are full-time staff attorneys that work for legal aid society. Some licensed attorneys that may offer their services. They may take a limited number of cases pro bono each year.
Some of the typical civil cases that legal aid society handles include but are not limited to:
• Landlord-tenant disputes
• Domestic abuse protective orders
• Family law-divorce, domestic violence, and child support
• Immigration-securing the appropriate documents in order to remain in the United States, contest deportation
• Elder law-preparing wills, health care proxies, powers of attorney, helping them apply for public benefits
The cases they do not handle are criminal cases. The services offered by legal aid society range from advice and information to representation throughout the entire case. Sometimes seminars are offered to help inform the local residents about their legal rights. They will also answer basic legal questions at seminars.
Although the process to determine eligibility varies by jurisdiction, there are general steps that have to be taken in each case. The main step is to do an evaluation of the client’s assets and income. The reason is that in order to qualify for a pro bono attorney their total household income has to fall below a threshold that has been pre-determined. In the case of domestic violence or divorce situations, legal aid society may consider the spouse’s income to determine the household income. This can happen if it appears that the client does not have access to the spouse’s income. The one exception to meeting low-income requirements is victims of domestic violence, as legal aid society does not usually verify their income. The reason is that a victim of domestic violence may need urgent legal assistance like getting a protective order against the abuser.
If the applicant meets all of the eligibility requirements, the services they receive from legal aid society will be free of cost in most cases. A client may still have to pay the mandatory filing fees but there may be a fee waiver. This waiver is a request that is filed by the client requesting that the court waives the filing fee for their case. The court will generally waive the fee if they determine that the client is unable to afford the filing fee.