Legal Aid Eligibility Requirements

Video Transcript:

Navigating the legal system can be hard, especially if you’re on a tight budget. But fear not, because legal aid might be the solution you’ve been looking for. But, what exactly is free legal aid and how do you know if you’re eligible for it? 

Legal aid refers to the provision of assistance to people who are unable to afford legal representation and access to the court system. Legal aid services are typically provided by a mix of government and non-government organizations including legal aid clinics, public defenders, and pro bono services offered by private attorneys. 

Legal aid services can vary widely but generally include all or some of the following: Offering initial information and advice on various issues, including civil, criminal, and family law matters. Representing individuals in court, tribunals, or negotiations, particularly in cases that involve critical rights and interests. Providing resources and workshops to educate the public about their legal rights and the legal system. 

But the big question remains: do YOU qualify for free legal aid? The following are common eligibility criteria that most free services consider. 

Number 1: Income Level. If you’re living at or below the federal poverty line guidelines (FPG for short), you’re a prime candidate for free legal help. Different organizations have different thresholds, but they usually follow guidelines similar to those used for other public assistance programs like Medicaid and food stamps. 

Most legal aid organizations set income thresholds based on a percentage of the FPG. Typically, individuals or families whose income is below 125% to 200% of the FPG may qualify for free legal services. 

For example, people seeking free help from the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles with an income of less than 200% of the FPG, may qualify for assistance. People making less than 125% have an even better chance. 

As you can see in the chart, the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles has done the math for us and you can see the cutoff income amounts at 125% and 200% of the FPG. So, for example, if a person living in Los Angeles with a family of four has an annual income of $51,500 or less, they may be eligible for assistance. 

If this same person’s annual income was instead $32,188, all other things being equal, they would stand an even better chance of receiving free help. It’s important to note that these cutoffs are only guidelines and many programs make exceptions based on other circumstances. 

In addition to income levels, some legal aid organizations may also consider the applicant’s assets. This could include savings accounts, investments, and property ownership, excluding the applicant’s residence. 

There may be income exceptions or waivers for individuals facing particularly severe circumstances, such as victims of domestic violence, people facing eviction, the elderly, veterans, or disabled individuals. In these cases, legal aid organizations might relax income and asset criteria to accommodate those in urgent or special need. 

Number 2: Type of case. Most legal aid organizations focus on civil cases, such as family law (including divorce, separation, child custody and support, and domestic violence); housing issues (such as eviction, housing discrimination, and foreclosure); employment issues; immigration issues; and problems with public benefits (including social security, disability, and Medicaid). 

Number 3: Residency. Some legal aid services require you to be a resident of the area where they operate. 

And finally, number 4: Special Circumstances. Vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, disabled, veterans, or victims of domestic violence, might have easier access to legal aid services. 

If you don’t qualify for free legal aid, the following are other free or low-cost options. 

Judigo Legal: Judigo Legal offers a free online chat platform where anyone regardless of income, family size, location, or legal issue, can get free legal advice from knowledgeable attorneys. What’s more, many attorneys on Judigo Legal offer free consultations and free or low cost services. 

Sliding Scale: Even if you don’t qualify for free legal help, many legal aid programs and lawyers offer services at a low cost depending on your income and other factors. 

Self-Help Clinics: Many organizations, including law libraries, legal aid organizations, community centers, and courthouses offer free clinics where people can walk in, call, or attend through Zoom to get help on given dates and times. 

Unbundled Services: Unbundled attorney services, also known as limited scope legal services, is a modern approach to legal assistance tailored for those seeking specific legal help without the need for full representation. Unlike traditional legal services where an attorney is retained to handle all aspects of a case from start to finish, unbundled services allow clients to hire a lawyer to perform specific tasks or offer advice on particular aspects of their legal issue. 

In closing, there are many legal aid offices out there and a quick Google search can help you find some. Your local public library is also a great resource as you can use the computers for free or ask a librarian for help. Visiting the website of your state’s bar, local law library, or the American Bar Association is also a great place to start. 

Thanks for watching, and remember: this video is meant to be informational only and is not legal advice. 

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