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Getting Legal Aid in the U.S.: Know Your Options

Getting legal aid is one of the fundamental problems in unlucky or ugly circumstances in which you cannot afford private lawyers.

As a newcomer to the U.S, you won’t know these legal intricacies right off the bat. And you will certainly find private lawyer fees hefty. So, how do you minimize the costs and risks?

There are obviously two broad categories your problem will fall under to simplify your next step:

  • Criminal Law: If your problem is one where you or your family members are charged and prosecuted with a crime, and you need legal counsel to defend a criminal suit as you cannot afford it.
  • Civil Law: If your problem is one where you or your family members are charged and prosecuted with a civil suit, or where you need to charge and prosecute an institution or individual in a civil suit, where monetary compensation is the goal.


In the former case, the Sixth Amendment gives you the right to an attorney in case you cannot afford one yourself. This structure is provided and funded by the U.S. federal and state governments. You are given access to public defenders in state and federal legal offices, as well as pro-bono private attorneys and court-appointed attorneys.

Call a nearby office or law firm for details.

In the latter case, there is no mandatory provision in the U.S. Constitution. You are not owed free, legal counsel. However, since 1974, the U.S. government has provided funding for legal aid in civil cases through the Legal Services Corporation (LSC).

So, should you need help for a domestic abuse case, an office harassment case, a child custody case, or a consumer protection case that involves a faulty product (such as a car), then you will need to look further.

There are various sources for legal aid in civil cases such as the above:

  • Staff Attorneys: These are salaried employees of the government who provide legal aid to low-income clients.
  • Judicare Model Attorneys: These are private lawyers who provide free legal aid alongside other fee-paying clients.
  • Community Legal Clinics & Societies: These are centers for a particular community, to serve the impoverished clients in the vicinity.

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What Specific Types of Legal Counsel Can You Access?

Of course, none of the above options is guaranteed to you. There is a shortage of legal aid in the nation, as the demand is very high. The system is not perfect, and you will still encounter difficulties in finding legal aid unless you get lucky.

In such a case, remember these specific organizations for legal assistance:

  • American Bar Association: This is a large, voluntary body of lawyers and law students in the U.S. You can find free legal advice and ask for free legal help by accessing their website, in its “Free Legal Help” section.
  • Executive Office for Immigration Review: This is one such database that will help you find pro-bono legal assistance for immigration issues. It is an immigration legal service for anyone who has been hounded by citizenship cases from public prosecutors.
  • National Disability Rights Network (NDRN): This is a nonprofit membership organization for people with disabilities. Solutions range from employment to education.
  • Pension Rights Center: This is a nonprofit organization that protects the retirement security of employees in the U.S. You can call and ask for legal assistance, or access the website for info on any civil suit involving you or your parents’ pension issues.
  • State Consumer Protection Offices: Each state has state consumer protection offices to serve those who have customer and consumer complaints. These have divisions that solve different issues you may have. You can solve issues related to services like insurance products, banking authorities, financial securities, and utilities such as gas, electricity, and telephones.

Of course, there are numerous legal assistance organizations and societies in the U.S. It is up to you to use online resources such as LawHelp.org and government websites and directories to find solutions to your exact legal problem.

Make use of the wealth of resources available.

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For visitors, travel, student and other international travel medical insurance.

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