Low-income people often do not have the money to pay for legal help when they need it. In criminal cases, those accused of crimes have the right to a government-appointed lawyer to represent them free of charge. In non-criminal cases, low-income people often turn to their local Legal Aid society. These nonprofit corporations specialize in providing free legal assistance. Depending on the locality, they might have full-time or part-time attorneys on their staff, depend on volunteer attorneys, or a combination of the two. Key areas of assistance commonly provided by Legal Aid include:
- Family law, covering the issues of divorce, child custody, adoption, support and visitation.
- Immigration issues, although the expertise of a local office may be limited in this area.
- Housing issues, including racial discrimination, disputes with landlords, evictions, and difficulties with public housing.
- Public benefits, including welfare, medical assistance, food stamps, Social Security and unemployment compensation.
- Juvenile legal problems, dealing the cases in which young people are expelled or suspended from schools or have other disputes with the education system.
- Consumer law, including contracts, warranties, debt problems, wage garnishments, repossessions, discrimination, and counseling on small claims court and bankruptcy procedures.
- Senior law, dealing with Medicaid and Medicare, nursing home and medical care, and guardianship issues.
In these and many areas, Legal Aid people advise and represent their clients before a variety of courts and administrative agencies. Legal Aid staff and volunteers also engage in community outreach, making educational presentations at community events to keep the public informed about legal issues that affect them. In some criminal cases, when the court appoints an attorney to represent a client, that attorney may be provided by Legal Aid.
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