I am a firm believer that the majority of those who need legal assistance are unable to afford it.
As recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court, all criminal defendants are entitled to legal representation, even those unable to afford counsel. In the landmark case of Gideon v. Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that criminal defendants have a Sixth Amendment constitutional right to request legal counsel if they are unable to afford adequate legal defense. Once a criminal defendant requests legal assistance, a state must provide a paid defense attorney. In a subsequent landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court further ruled that after arresting a criminal defendant, state police must notify him of his right to legal counsel (Miranda v. Arizona).
Unfortunately, you do not have a federal constitutional right to free legal counsel for noncriminal matters. This means that if you need help filing for divorce, need help appealing your unemployment denial decision or need help filing for disability income, you will probably have to pay for legal assistance. Most states provide low-income families with limited legal assistance through pro bono programs offered by local nonprofit agencies, state and local bar associations and legal aid groups. Funded by different sources, legal aid and pro bono attorneys provide the public with an invaluable service.
I try to offer reasonably priced legal services to my clients, but I am not a pro bono attorney. If my clients
cannot afford my services, I will attempt to help them find legal help at a lower cost or pro bono help. The Legal Aid Society is a national group offering a listing of local legal aid groups in different states. The Legal Aid Society also provides free public information through handbooks and brochures. The Virginia Bar Association and Fairfax Bar Association offer a listing of attorneys who may be able to help you by providing reduced fee services. The Legal Services of Northern Virginia is a great nonprofit organization that offers free legal assistance for certain types of legal issues. As a last resort, you can also try to find free legal help on the Internet by using resources compiled by “LawHelp.org.”
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