Civil legal aid is the support of counsel and legal advocacy for individuals living at or near poverty in legal matters that fall beyond the criminal justice system. For individuals facing civil legal obstacles, such as illegal evictions, foreclosure, domestic abuse, or wrongful rejection of government assistance, navigating the justice system without a legal representative can be hopeless. However, unlike the Sixth Amendment right to counsel in criminal cases, courts have not recognized a right to a lawyer in the vast majority of civil cases. This puts justice out of reach for low-income individuals, and weakens a fundamental principle of our nation, that: the amount of money an individual has should not determine the quality of justice they get.
Legal aid programs help guarantee fairness in the justice system. Nearly 47 million people, and more than one in five children, live in or near poverty in the U.S. Legal aid providers defend the rights of millions of Americans with low-income each year in areas like housing, consumer, family, education and employment, and defend access to services for people of all backgrounds, including kids, veterans, victims of domestic violence, the elderly, and those living with disabilities.
How Does Legal Aid Help?
Legal assistance is frequently the only lifeline available to individuals experiencing life-altering consequences, such as losing their home, employment, or custody of their kids. For instance, research has shown that the provision of legal services "considerably lowers the incidence of domestic violence." The type of assistance depends on the kind of legal trouble the individual faces. Legal aid lawyers advocate for clients in a variety of issues outside of court, litigate on their behalf in court, and often lead complicated legal actions pursuing systemic changes that affect large numbers of individuals facing similar situations.