There are several different types of free legal services, from intricately run programs to telephone hotlines or Internet forums. For example, if the legal issue involves a matter of social justice, there are many different programs that offer free legal services. In the United States, if the legal issue is criminal in nature, a public defender may be appointed to the defendant in both state and federal courts. If the legal issue involves some type of injury, the services provided by the injured party’s lawyer may be free as well. At that point, the lawyer may receive a portion of the monetary award or the fees may be paid by the losing party.
Among the most widespread free legal services are pro bono programs. Pro bono essentially means “for free” and for qualifying people, they are just that: free legal services. In the US, the programs are often available for citizens of a particular state or county. People who use these services typically need to qualify for the services. For example, they usually need to be lower income clients. This is true for the US and many countries across Europe, such as England, Scotland, and Wales.
In addition, the clients wanting to use a lawyer who is associated with a pro bono program may need to have a legal issue that is related to the services that the program offers. These issues may revolve around children, the elderly, immigration, the arts, or bankruptcy, to name just a few. In other words, if the program deals primarily with children’s rights, a person wanting help to prevent foreclosure on her home would not be able to use a lawyer from that program for her legal issue.
If a legal issue is criminal in nature, then a public defender may be used by the defendant. Typically, a public defender is used when the defendant cannot afford to hire a private criminal attorney. In the US, there are public defender programs for both state and federal court cases. In addition, some European countries use a public defender system for their lower income residents as well. Some countries, such as France, even use state funds to hire private attorneys as public defenders.
If a personal injury causes a legal issue to arise, the injured party may be able to hire an attorney and essentially obtain free legal services. In many cases, the lawyer will only be paid if she wins the case for her client. In some cases, the lawyer may argue that the opposing party is responsible for her fees. Then, the opposing party would pay the amount the lawyer would receive from her client and the client pays nothing to her attorney. The result is that the client has free legal services.
Other kinds of free legal services include hotlines and Internet forums. Some news stations and local organizations have set times during which lawyers volunteer their time to answer legal questions for people who call in or send an e-mail. In those cases, there typically is not a fee, yet people can get a general overview on the laws behind the legal issues. They may even learn whether it is worth their time to pursue the legal issue further.