Affordable Legal Aid
By now most people are familiar with the term "Pro bono". Pro bono lawyers offer legal aid free of charge or at low cost, a service they provide to better the public good. This affordable representation is often directed toward under-served minorities or the financially challenged, such as children, the elderly, or immigrants. Alternatively, an attorney in private practice may volunteer their time and services at reduced or no cost as a lobbyist, working to improve the legal system or drafting amendments to existing laws in efforts to make justice attainable for people from all walks of life.
Pro Bono Attorneys?
There are many different reasons an attorney may offer their services on a pro bono basis. They may believe that under privileged or minority groups are being mistreated for political or racist motives. America is a country based on freedom and equal opportunity, and when corrupt politicians or corporations use their power and wealth to attack groups that don't have the power or privilege to mount an effective legal defense. Pro bono attorneys might also offer there services to individuals that have extenuating services. A typical area of law that often sees lawyers offering their services pro bono is injury or accident law.
Fortunately for those in need of assistance with criminal law, the United States constitution guarantees free legal representation for persons charged with a crime that could lead to imprisonment and who have no viable means of affording a lawyer. During the accused person's first appearance in court, a request can be made for the court to appoint an attorney for their defense. The request will usually need to be accompanied by an affidavit asserting that the individual has insufficient resources with which to hire counsel. This is not generally considered pro bono legal aid, as criminal defense lawyers are usually tax payer funded, but it is worth mentioning here.
In the case of a non-criminal or civil trial, there is no constitutional provision for free legal representation. With civil cases the best option for those who cannot afford an attorney is to look for a pro bono option. There are social programs targeted toward persons with very low income, the disabled, the elderly, victims of domestic violence, those who've served in the military or other citizens in special cases where obtaining low cost legal aid would otherwise be inordinately difficult.
What Services Might Be Offered Pro Bono?
Typically when one thinks about legal services, pro bono or otherwise, most think about in person representation in a court room. This is not the only form of legal aid that attorneys provide. Many legal aid offices, law firms, or private practice lawyers offer a plethora of services outside of in person courtroom representation. Many legal offices have a staff made up of attorneys, paralegals, and other support personnel dedicated to assisting disadvantaged clients. Pro bono services might include legal advice and counsel, drafting of legal documentation, or overseeing settlements out of court. To maximize the efforts of their office, legal service advocates specialize in the areas of law which are most critically needed by the minorities which they serve: family, bankruptcy, custody hearings, adoptions, and estate planning.
Lawyers are highly skilled and educated professionals, and their services command high rates of pay. While a person in the US may be entitled to represent themselves in a court of law, there is no substitute for expert counsel. Taking advantage of lawyers volunteering their services for free or at reduced costs is not only advisable but in some cases a guaranteed legal right.
Finding an attorney near you who is offering pro bono services or services at an affordable rate is difficult. If you are considering searching for a lawyer you can start at Justia.com or you can try searching on Lawyers.FindLaw.com. Both sites provide search functions for attorneys by area of expertise and location.