Free legal aid is extremely rare in the United States, but through the California court system, citizens are offered several of the following options:
Self-service in courts
Legal aid is available in all of California’s highest courts for those who do not have an attorney and represent themselves. Detailed information can be obtained from the courts.
Legal aid services operate in many California cities. Legal aid agencies are non-profit organizations that provide free services to people below a certain income level. As a general rule, you must provide proof of low income in order to receive the services of such an agency. Since so many people need legal aid, only quite poor people can use these services.
In addition, legal aid services cannot deal with certain types of cases. They typically provide assistance with cases involving domestic violence, family law, evictions, social assistance, immigration, labor law, and other issues that can create serious problems for a person in everyday life. They most likely won’t be able to help you with, say, filing a car accident claim (unless you’re suing in small claims court – some legal aid programs provide support in such cases).
But if you need a lawyer and are unable to hire one, it is a good idea to contact your local legal aid agency. Just don’t lose heart if they can’t help you.
Visit LawHelpCa.org to find legal aid offices near you and what areas of law they cover. Also, this site will help you find a lawyer and find other free and budget services for residents of your county.
Non-profit and public organizations
Non-profit community organizations, such as those that fight for civil rights or against discrimination against tenants, can also help you. Some of these organizations have lawyers on staff who can take on your case. Some organizations provide assistance only to groups of people and not to individual clients. They can, for example, help you and your neighbors convince the city council to install a traffic light at a busy intersection.
Use LawHelpCa.org to find nonprofits near you and see if they can help with your legal problems.
There are several government agencies that offer legal support. Information about these agencies can be found in the relevant sections of our website.
For example, in the “Alimony” section, you will find detailed information about local child support agencies.
If you are charged with a crime and cannot afford a lawyer, you may be entitled to the assistance of a public defender. As a rule, it will be recommended to you by the court. If your city does not have a public defender or one who is unable to take on your case, the court will assign you another free attorney.
The addresses and phone numbers of the government agencies mentioned above can be found in the telephone directory or on the Internet.
Lawyer search services
Lawyer Locator Services can help you find free or affordable legal services. If you are not eligible for free assistance, these services will provide you with information to help you find available legal services. For example, they have lists of lawyers who are willing to take you for an initial consultation for a small amount – usually in the range of $20 to $45. Sometimes this consultation is enough for further independent action. The lawyer will tell you about the services that he can offer you and their cost. Some lawyers have special rates for the poor. Some can help you with key aspects of your case, while you can handle the rest on your own (called limited representation).