What services does Legal Aid provide?

Legal aid is the act of providing legal help to those who cannot afford it. Legal aid is a globally accepted provision.

What services does Legal aid provide? Legal aid provides services related to legal advice and representation in matters of domestic violence, education, employment, family, health, tax, housing, foreclosure, immigration, utilities, and public benefits.

What is Legal Aid?

Now let us explore the concept of legal aid. In simpler terms, legal aid means that if you are poor and you need legal help, then you can get it for free because your government or the state will pay for it.

Legal aid is an important constituent of the legal framework in a democracy. The concept of legal aid comes from the fact that in any democratic system, all the citizens whether rich or poor are equal before the law.

There will be lawyers and clients in any legal system. The clients may come from different economic backgrounds. Some of them may be rich while some of them may be poor.

The concept of legal aid stems from the fact that the poor and downtrodden people may not be able to afford a lawyer’s fees. However, everybody is equal before the law and everybody deserves justice.

So in order to provide justice to the poor and needy in legal matters, the provision of legal aid was devised. However, the person seeking legal aid would need to prove that he cannot afford legal fees.

Legal aid exists as a full-fledged legal aid system in a large number of countries. Some of these countries are USA, UK, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Denmark, Italy, and India to name a few.

SERVICES WITHIN THE LEGAL AID SYSTEM

Now that we have understood legal aid, let us go ahead and enlist the services that come under the purview of legal aid. The legal aid system provides legal services related to the following matters –

  • Family

Issues like domestic violence, divorce, child custody etc. A large number of women and children suffer from domestic violence and abuse. They may seek legal aid especially the children being minors.

Legal aid is also applicable in case of a divorced couple fighting for child custody. It is applicable also to any other dispute involving your children.

  • Housing

Issues like possession claims, unlawful eviction and property disputes.

  • Education

Issues related to the education sector. This may widely include children.

  • Employment

Issues related to discrimination or harassment at the workplace, labor wages etc. Issues related to the violation of labor laws or inhumane working conditions.

  • Public benefits

Issues related to government benefits like social security, food, healthcare, insurance etc.

  • Utilities

Issues related to public utility services like gas, electricity, water supply etc. If a public utility service is owned and managed by a private player, then such a case would fall under the consumer rights section.

  • Tax

Issues related to income tax or any other tax levied by the government. Now here one may argue that if legal aid is for poor people then how come we are including taxpayers into it.

Here one must understand that a low-income group may be eligible to seek legal aid. There is a lower income threshold or limit set for that. Any individual whose income falls below that threshold would be eligible for legal aid.

  • Immigration

Issues related to immigrants, refugees, and immigration law. This may involve immigrants and refugees living in a country where they don’t have enough income to pay legal fees.

When a lender lends money to a borrower and for some reason the borrower is unable to pay back the loan. Then in such a case, the lender tries to recover the money by selling the collateral attached to the loan. This is called foreclosure.

Issues related to foreclosure generally involve cases where the borrower tries to seek free legal help or legal aid to prevent the foreclosure of his asset. The asset may be a property or any valuable item.

  • Disability

A disabled person is entitled to free legal help. This may include those who are disabled by birth or have been disabled due to an accident.

  • Consumer rights

Issues related to consumer complaints. Disputes related to the purchase of a defective product.

LEGAL AID IN CRIMINAL CASES

Legal aid in criminal cases has to be understood separately. A criminal offence may include acts of rape, fraud, murder or terrorism. The underlying fundamental of legal aid remains the same here.

Suppose if you are a convict in a criminal case and you don’t have the money to fight the case. Then the state will bear your legal expenses and appoint a lawyer to fight your case.

In criminal cases, the court decides whether a person will get legal aid or not. In civil cases, the court is not involved when it comes to deciding a legal aid benefit.

COMPONENTS OF A LEGAL AID SYSTEM

Legal aid is provided by a lawyer to a client who can’t afford it. A legal aid system may consist of the following components –

  • Lawyers
  • Law firms
  • Legal clinics
  • NGOs
  • State-affiliated help groups.

It is important to note here that every country has its own legal aid program. So there might be discrepancies in the services and the functionalities of the program of each country.

The legal aid system of one country may look different from another. However, all follow the same basic fundamental principle of legal aid.

RELATED QUESTIONS

  1. Is legal aid free for all?

Legal aid is a system of free legal help to those who can’t afford it.

  1. Can a corporate or a business entity seek legal aid?

If a business or a corporation has filed for bankruptcy, then they may seek free legal help. However, a lot would depend on the bankruptcy laws of that country.

  1. Does legal aid help in winning a case?

No, legal aid only ensures access to free legal help for those who cannot pay the lawyer’s fees.

the practice of law and depression, in three parts.

Along with many others, I’ve written about lawyer depression, most recently here.

I just came across a series of three posts written by a law professor (who also has extensive practice experience) about his experience with depression, and being a law student, lawyer, and law professor.

In this series, the author lays out the cold, hard facts. And he calls on lawyers and law professors to act.

However, as lawyers and law professors, we must to do more. It is clear that our students need us to do more. When you are depressed, you feel so terribly alone. You feel different. You feel ashamed. You feel weak. You feel like you will never feel better and that you can never be the person you want to be.

If 40% of our students feel this way, we must do more. They look up to us. They see us as role models and mentors. They see us as strong and successful and confident. They need to see that suffering from depression or anxiety or bipolar disorder will not curse them for all time and destroy their lives. These are treatable diseases, not character flaws. They need us to be brave and be honest.

-Professor Brian Clarke

Not every lawyer struggles with these issues. But most I know do, to some degree. Some of them sit in my office and cry. (I am not exaggerating. More than once, a lawyer seeking my help ended up crying in our initial consultation.)

In my humble opinion, the failure of our profession to grapple meaningfully with these endemic issues is tragic. And unacceptable.

The law professor who speaks out so openly in these posts is a shining example of exactly what we all need to do: TALK ABOUT IT. Bravely and honestly.

Acknowledging what most of us view as “weakness” will not be easy, or popular. But it’s absolutely necessary.

I’ve spent many of my 16+ years as a lawyer seeking a way to be really good at my work while simultaneously not losing my mind, my family, my friends. It’s not easy, folks. It takes brutal honesty to reflect and act in a way that goes against the grain for our profession.

The law part is not that hard (that was the fun part for me), but the business side of law is a bear. Finding clients, billing time, and collecting money, are just a few aspects of the business of law of which I was not a big fan. Keeping tasks and deadlines in dozens (or hundreds) of cases straight and getting everything done well and on time is a constant challenge. The fear of letting one of those balls drop can be terrifying, especially for the type A perfectionist who is always terrified of making a mistake or doing a less than perfect job. Forget work-life balance. Forget vacations. Every day out of the office is another day you are behind.

Professor Brian Clark

And it’s why I want to help other lawyers do it. It’s really the only reason I haven’t left the profession completely. Because really, when you pencil in the pros vs. cons, why would anyone stay? (I welcome challenges to this statement, by the way.)

As I wrote in a recent post, every lawyer I know as friend or client acknowledges the very same challenges and frustrations. I wager that every single one of them would leave the profession if the right opportunity presented itself.

Granted, my group of lawyer friends and clients is very self-selected. We are of a like mind. But I don’t think we’re the minority. Not anywhere close.

While I do not remember all of the details of my decent into the hole, it was certainly rooted in trying to do it all – perfectly. After my second child was born, I was trying to be all things to all people at all times. Superstar lawyer. Superstar citizen. Superstar husband. Superstar father. Of course, this was impossible. The feeling that began to dominate my life was guilt. A constant, crushing guilt. Guilt that I was not in the office enough because I was spending too much time with my family. Guilt that I was letting my family down because I was spending too much time at work. Guilt that I was letting my bosses down because I was not being the perfect lawyer to which they had become accustomed. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt. The deeper I sunk into the hole, the more energy I put into maintaining my façade of super-ness and the less energy was left for either my family or my clients. And the guiltier I felt. It was a brutal downward spiral. Eventually, it took every ounce of energy I had to maintain the façade and go through the motions of the day.

Professor Brian Clark

Does this sound familiar???

I recommend this series of posts highly to anyone who cares about our profession and the people in it.

Law Professors, Law Students and Depression … A Story of Coming Out:

Part I

Part II

Part III

If you feel, even the slightest bit, that you need help — seek it NOW.*

Know someone who you feel, even the slightest bit, may need help? Help them NOW.

Accept Brian Clarke’s challenge. Be brave and honest.

*I searched for a really good national mental health resource for lawyers. I see a gap.