The Legal Aid Society's attorneys only accept cases by court appointment, and are not hired directly by members of the public who need legal assistance. This means that we do not get involved in cases until a judge determines that an individual involved in a legal proceeding needs to be represented by a lawyer. As a result, the Legal Aid Society is not available for hire by the general public, including individuals who would like to file a lawsuit and defendants in civil cases who would like to have an attorney defend them.
When our attorneys are appointed by judges to represent individuals in legal proceedings, they generally represent people in the following types of cases:
Children removed from abusive homes, caught in the middle of a custody battle, or accused of crimes, and adults facing potential jail sentences, frequently have no means to secure legal representation. By providing these individuals with attorneys to guide and advise them through the legal system, the legal rights of these persons are protected.
By providing an attorney who is physically present in the courtroom and who has expertise in the legal issues that regularly arise in that particular court, judges may utilize Legal Aid as an alternative to identifying, training, and appointing private counsel for those persons legally entitled to free representation.
Although many lawyers in private practice regularly accept appointment to some indigent cases as their professional obligation, in some courts there are not a sufficient number of these attorneys to provide legal representation for the large numbers of indigent persons requiring appointed counsel. The availability of Legal Aid lawyers to handle these cases insures that all citizens who are eligible for free representation have access to a lawyer.
Legal Aid can provide legal services at a rate substantially below the hourly rates of members of the private bar for several key reasons: the accessibility of its lawyers, who are always present during the day-to-day operations of the court, the familiarity of those lawyers with the issues, procedure, and personnel of those courts, the capability of its lawyers to handle individual cases without regard to hourly billing and business profits, and the commitment of these lawyers to quality legal representation for the poor.