How to Get The Most From a Legal Aid Clinic

by Nancy

Legal aid clinics are essential to protecting the legal rights of the less wealthy. Particularly if the client is under-educated, comes from another culture, or speaks a language other than English.

Without free legal aid, many of these individuals would suffer.

Where to get free legal help?

To obtain legal assistance, many potential clients are referred to a legal aid attorney by other social services. Not knowing where to turn, clients may go to a church, food bank, or charity, not knowing the limitations of those organizations to assist in legal matters. Most legal aid clinics are also listed in the phone book and also have a presence on the internet.

What kind of cases does legal aid accept?

The first is criminal cases. Everyone who watches crime shows on television such as Law and Order is familiar with the policeman giving the defendant his Miranda rights, including the phrase, “you have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford one, one will be assigned to you.” There are private attorneys who occasionally take in pro bono work, but 99 percent of the time, when an attorney is assigned to represent someone arrested and they cannot afford a private attorney, your local legal aid attorney is called in.

Legal aid lawyers represent clients not only in offenses such as assault or robbery and Driving Under the Influence of alcohol but in particular, step in when a client is in danger of immediately losing his or her job because of the arrest.

Another common area where legal assistance is needed is the category of domestic violence cases and sought after restraining orders. This can be a thorny issue for attorneys because not only are there frequently two competing stories but at times, newer immigrants from another culture are not familiar with the expected behavior of a man and woman living together.

Clients also seek free legal help to resolve landlord-tenant issues. Interpreting and explaining exactly what a lease says, discovering any defects in the way a landlord operates their business and helping avoid evection, all fall in the way of a legal aid clinic.

Finally, legal aid attorney’s are often consulted to help with immigration, deportation, and refugee issues. People facing immigration, or deportation, as well as those seeking to apply as a refugee, offer deep challenges for attorneys, and often their clients are under extreme emotional distress.

What is not offered?

Legal aid attorneys don’t normally draft wills, set up trusts, and above all, they don’t serve as attorneys for private civil cases. If one neighbor wants to sue his next-door for cutting down a tree on his property or suing his employer for sexual harassment, he or she needs to consult a private attorney.

Legal aid is a wonderful resource and often steps in to protect the rights of those who have the least resources and are among the most vulnerable in society.