How to Get Pro-Bono Legal Help
How to Find a Pro Bono Family Law Attorney
Divorce and child custody cases can get expensive, but if your case is particularly complicated – or if your spouse has already hired an attorney – you may find you need an attorney to represent your interests. Even if you can't afford legal services, there are many ways to hire an attorney for free or at a tremendously reduced cost. One of these ways is to find an attorney who is willing to volunteer her services to you pro bono or free of charge.
Using Legal Aid Programs
Locate your nearest legal aid office.Search online to find the website of the legal aid office in your city or county.
- Legal aid websites also often has other free resources and information you can use as you plan your case.
- These services are funded by federal grants and typically are referred to as "legal aid" or "legal services."
Apply for assistance.Legal aid only assists low-income individuals, although the threshold financial minimums vary from state to state.
- For 2015, the Legal Services Corporation provides assistance for individuals and families earning income below 125 percent of the federal poverty guideline. For a family of two in the 48 contiguous states, for example, this would mean your total income is less than ,913.
- Keep in mind that due to decreases in federal funding, legal aid may be limited and you might have to wait awhile before an attorney is available to assist you.
Go to your state or local bar association's website.If you don't qualify for assistance from legal aid, you might qualify for a state or local bar association program.
- Bar associations often have pro bono programs that offer assistance to people who meet other criteria, even if their income is too high for legal aid. For example, there might be a program for abused spouses or for people who are HIV-positive.
- For example, Santa Clara County's Pro Bono Project provides free legal assistance in domestic violence, divorce, separation, and parentage cases.
- The program also runs a virtual legal services program that provides brief 20-minute consultations for people in need through WebEx video conferencing services online.
Find out if a nearby law school has a family law clinic.Law schools often give law students practical experience doing routine tasks while supervised by professors or practicing attorneys.
- Think of this option as similar to the reduced cost services you can get by going to a beauty school to get your hair cut. Students get hands-on experience working on a real case, while experienced attorneys make sure they don't make a mistake that could harm your case.
Check the American Bar Association's directory.The ABA has a directory on its website that lists free and reduced-cost legal assistance programs in every state.
- Clicking on your state will take you to a list of types of legal assistance programs, including legal services, pro bono, and other options.
- A similar map also is available at lawhelp.org.
Searching on Your Own
Talk to family and friends.An attorney might be more willing to donate time to your case if you are related, or if you have close mutual friends.
Ask your social worker for a recommendation.If you receive public benefits, your social worker may be able to give you names of local attorneys who volunteer their services.
Look at attorney websites.Some attorneys advertise their pro bono work on their own websites, or belong to pro bono networks.
- Some law firms use pro bono work as an opportunity for law students and beginning attorneys to get hands-on experience working with clients on a case.
- The law firm may include information on the name of the attorney in charge of the firm's pro bono program or an email address to contact if you're interested in having one of the firm's attorneys represent you pro bono.
- Target younger attorneys who've just graduated from law school and passed the bar. They need a client – any client – and typically will be passionate and enthusiastic advocates.
Ask at churches, synagogues, or local charities.Many volunteer attorneys promote their services at religious or charitable functions.
Search the internet.There are many networks such as probono.net that are dedicated to helping you find a volunteer attorney to assist you.
- Probono.net runs a site called LawHelp.org that helps low- and moderate-income people find free legal aid in their communities and answers questions about legal rights and court processes.
Taking Advantage of Self-Help Resources
Find out if your county has a self-help center or self-help clinics.Some areas have permanent self-help centers at local courthouses, or clinics that are held periodically at the courthouse or the library.
- Self-help centers are staffed by lawyers who answer questions and help you fill out forms.
Read and research your state's family law.Reading your state's law can help you have a better understanding of the process and what's expected of you.
Download and print family law forms.You may be able to find basic family law forms such as divorce petitions and custody motions at your state court's website.
Talk to the clerk at your local courthouse.The clerk may have information about other self-help programs, or may be able to connect you with a courthouse facilitator who can walk you through basic court procedures.
- Courthouse facilitators are well versed in civil procedure at your county courthouse and can help you figure out where to file your paperwork and what documents you need.
Search online for other free resources.Many informational sites online are dedicated to explaining legal concepts in plain language that everyone can understand.
- For example, you may be able to find information that helps you at DivorceNet.com, a family law informational site run by Nolo.
Call a legal hotline.There are many hotlines, often sponsored by legal aid agencies, that provide answers to specific questions. These hotlines may be free or may charge a small fee per minute that would be added to your phone bill.
Video: Pro Bono Service Domestic Violence: What Happens Now?
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