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Legal aid is assistance provided to people of low income who need help with legal matters. Legal aid organizations can be found in many regions of the world and are especially common in urban areas. People can receive free or low cost legal help through a legal aid office once they demonstrate that they are qualified to receive assistance.
While the law guarantees the provision of an attorney to people accused in criminal cases, no such provisions are provided for people involved in civil matters. This puts people of low income at a disadvantage when they are in legal situations that involve civil law, as they may not be able to afford a lawyer to provide help. People of low income can find themselves in a variety of situations that call for a lawyer. These can include landlord-tenant disputes, appeals for government assistance, such as disability payments, and disputes with insurance companies.
Funding for legal aid comes from a variety of sources. Governments may provide grants to help such organizations pay attorneys and maintain premises. These organizations also rely on donations, grants from nongovernmental organizations, and volunteer hours from attorneys, paralegals, and other legal professionals. Depending on how well funded a legal aid office is, it may be able to provide free help to all or it may require payments from some clients.
Affordable legal services provide people of low income with a means of accessing the legal system. With the assistance of a lawyer, people can file suit for damages if they are injured, fight a denial of benefits, or work out an employment or housing dispute. Legal aid lawyers can also help clients network with social services agencies. These agencies can provide additional assistance and make clients aware of services they are entitled to.
People who find themselves in need of a lawyer to handle a civil matter who cannot afford one can find assistance by asking for a referral from a bar organization or using a search engine to look up “legal aid” and their area. When bringing a matter to legal aid, people should bring as much documentation as possible, including any correspondence sent. Some clinics accept walk in clients, while others request that people make appointments to see an attorney. A phone call to this type of organization should put callers in contact with a staff member who can answer questions about hours and appointment availability.