What are Legal Aid Clinics? | BCGSearch.com

What are Legal Aid Clinics?


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Legal problems have compelled many people to seek out the services of attorneys, but their finances prevent them from paying for them. A legal aid clinic may be familiar to some, but they may wonder what services they can offer and how helpful they are.
Legal aid clinics in the United States are the provision of assistance to people who are unable to afford legal representations and access to the court system in the United States. The state bar association is usually responsible for subsidized legal aid clinics in most states. Local attorneys often volunteer their services to these legal aid groups, so that those who cannot afford an attorney can get advice. However, it is usually only possible to represent a company at the initial meeting. People who need simple answers to basic legal questions, advice on simple contract or pleading issues, or help with filling out paperwork often find this option a great option. Nonetheless, these clinics can be a tremendous help to those seeking legal services, and the lawyers who volunteer for these programs are often among the very best available in their towns.

Alternatively, organizations are available to help the poor with certain types of issues, such as those related to civil rights, fair housing, and tenancy issues. In these organizations, the client is actually represented in court, the lawsuit is filed on the client's behalf, and the case is pursued as far as it goes. It is generally necessary to show that one is without means and that their case has a reasonable amount of merit to qualify.

A legal aid clinic is not for those who can hire an attorney but are unwilling to hire one. Many people without the necessary income may not be able to attend. These valuable resources can make a difference in a person's ability to protect their legal rights when they are truly in need. You can usually find legal clinics through your local or state bar association if you need assistance. Generally, bar associations can direct attorneys who are interested in these programs to the appropriate representative for enrollment.

Across the United States, legal aid provisions differ according to the types of litigation. For defendants under criminal prosecution (related to the charges) who cannot afford to hire an attorney, criminal legal aid with legal representation is provided. There is no federal guarantee of civil legal aid, but a variety of public interest law firms and community legal clinics provide legal advice for free (pro bono). The federal government, pro bono lawyers, and private volunteers also provide civil legal aid.

Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO)

In 1965, the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) implemented the first federal legal aid program. As part of the Johnson administration's War on Poverty, the OEO was established by the Economic Opportunity Act. Aimed at providing legal assistance, Sargent Shriver became the first director of OEO. When Shriver was asked which program he was most proud of from the War on Poverty, he replied, "I am most proud of Legal Services because it had the greatest potential for changing the system under which people's lives were being abused.

Legal Services for the Poor

1965 marked the first time the United States provided a legal remedy. Under the direction of Sargent Shriver, the Office of Economic Opportunity established the Legal Services for the Poor program. As the program went beyond providing legal aid, it was based on the "justice model". Specifically, it was designed to remove barriers faced by those unable to afford legal protections on grounds of discrimination based upon race, gender, and class. Using legal means, the state aimed to alleviate poverty by addressing its legal causes. Under the Johnson administration, this approach was employed in the "war on poverty." By working for those oppressed by poverty on a mass scale, the new staff of antipoverty lawyers transformed many lives. The work aims to transform the social world that constructs and produces poverty through a unique combination of understanding poverty-causing factors and pursuing economic justice.

The U.S. experienced a backlash in the late 1960s after the programs that improved economic and social conditions became the beneficiaries of marginalization and poverty. As a result of rapid societal changes within American society under the Nixon administration, the "justice model" would be replaced by the "access to justice" model. Legal Services Corporation (LSC) would be the new organization that will design and implement the new approach, which will have an individualistic focus with limited social impact because US law does not stipulate the right to law services as an essential part of the law. Future organizations would be guided by "access to justice" as the model for legal aid offices.

Legal Aid at the State Level

Legal aid clinic is largely inadequate at the federal level through the LSC, and a large amount of demand remains unmet. Because the Supreme Court did not affirm the right to civil counsel, as it did in criminal matters with Gideon v. Wainwright, States have been left to fulfill the high demand for legal services on their own.

As a result of this development, every state, beginning with Florida, now has a version of an Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts program.

New York

In 1876, the Legal Aid Society of New York became the first nonprofit organization in the United States to provide civil legal aid. The passage of the "Right to Counsel Law" in 2017 made New York City the first US city to guarantee legal services to tenants facing eviction. Mark D. Levine and Vanessa Gibson first introduced the bill in 2014 before it was expanded into its current form. Legal services relating to evictions and housing will receive increased funding over the next five years, reaching $155 million by 2022. To qualify for the services, households cannot earn more than 200% of the federal poverty level according to the New York City Office of Civil Justice (OCJ).

A provision in the legislation requires OCJ to report on its progress and effectiveness annually. Across the four years from 2014 to 2017, more than 70,000 New Yorkers stayed in their homes due to decreased evictions, according to a report released in 2017.


As part of the 2009 Sargent Shriver Civil Counsel Act, several pilot programs were created regarding civil legal aid cases that addressed basic human needs for the purposes of assessing the benefits and logistics of expanding civil legal aid. Several legal aid programs were examined in a 2017 study, which found that recipients had greatly improved chances of beating eviction cases. 67 percent of cases settled, a 33 percent increase from self-represented (self-represented) cases. A critical finding of this study was that when the Legal Services Corporation funds Shriver organizations in California, only 6% of clients have ultimately been evicted. People in California who are Latino/a tend to suffer disproportionately from this.

As part of an ordinance passed in 2012, the Board of Supervisors of San Francisco declared they were committed to making San Francisco the first city in the nation to guarantee a right to legal representation. An eviction program, called "Right to Counsel", was implemented in San Francisco in June 2018.

City Counsel's Office in Los Angeles is in the process of considering a "Right To Counsel" ordinance that may resemble those already implemented in New York and San Francisco.


Wisconsin's Supreme Court organized the Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation in 1986 in order to join the Lawyer Trust Account movement.

Types of Free Legal Services

In most cases, legal services rank alongside emergency medical care and homeownership as one of the most expensive things people need in their lifetime. Legal services can be obtained for free or low cost in many different places, such as law firms, government agencies, and even law schools.

Here is a summary of what free legal services you may be able to get in your state.

Public Defenders

Even if you have the resources to afford a lawyer, it can be a terrifying experience to be charged with a crime and taken to court. Legal services may, however, be provided at no cost to you. Those unable to afford an attorney may qualify for free services as defined by the United States Constitution. When you are formally charged with a crime, these attorneys are often appointed by a judge from a public defender's office. In the event you lose the criminal case, this attorney will represent you throughout the trial and on your first appeal. If you would like to learn more, you can contact your local public defender.

Legal Aid Clinics

In cases where you are unable to hire a private lawyer while protecting your interests, you may qualify for legal aid, sometimes called legal services. Lawyers and legal aid organizations are typically funded by governments and take on cases concerning the poor and impoverished. Legal aid societies and lawyers are limited in their ability to take on cases due to their limited funding. Normal lawsuits that legal aid attorneys handle include those involving employment benefit denials, social security benefits, consumer credit, and evictions.

 If you are interested in obtaining legal assistance from a legal aid organization, you should determine if you qualify. Often, legal aid organizations will only accept cases from people who have a low income. For more information on legal aid, you may wish to consult a local bar association or look in the phone book. Due to the limited funding these organizations receive from the government, their capacity may be limited or you may be waiting a long time.

Personal Injury Attorneys on Contingency

There are many personal injury attorneys who work on contingency fees, which means they receive their fees only if you receive compensation. A contingent fee arrangement is perfect for those with winning cases but no real means of paying an hourly attorney fee.

As part of a contingency fee arrangement, you and your attorney choose a percentage of the reward that your attorney will receive upon a successful lawsuit or settlement. Depending on where you live and the laws that apply to these arrangements, this percentage can range from 30-40%. Remember that this percentage does not include the costs that an attorney must incur, such as filing fees and court costs. In the event that your case is tried and won, however, a judge may award the costs of your lawsuit in addition to the amount you are awarded for your injury.

Pro Bono Services

Pro bono work is often done by attorneys working in private practice and in firms. Individuals with combined household incomes less than 125 percent of the federal poverty level may qualify for pro bono services, as they are offered by community legal aid clinics. Pro bono programs will tell you about these exceptions, which may vary by income.

Social Justice Organizations

Many times, if your case involves some social justice issue, you can find an attorney who will provide free high-quality legal services. You can spot social justice issues by observing that they have implications that extend beyond the scope of your case, such as sexual harassment in the workplace or freedom of speech. You may be able to find an attorney who will work on a pro bono basis if you are seeking to sue your landlord for racially discriminating against you, as this case may have a much broader impact on the community than just your right to live.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the National Center for Lesbian Rights all have legal teams dedicated to providing free services on social justice issues.

Law School Legal Clinics

Many law schools offer free services at their legal aid clinic, which are staffed by law students under the supervision of an attorney (usually a clinical professor). It is usually offered in one or more particular fields, such as family law, elder law, landlord-tenant law, or health care law. Additionally, law students can provide a broad range of legal services, including writing, interviewing, negotiating, and preparing court documents.

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