The National Legal Aid & Defender Association describes legal as “the assistance of counsel and legal advocacy for people living at or near poverty in legal matters that fall outside the criminal justice system. Navigating the legal system can be difficult without legal representation, and that’s where legal aid comes in.
Legal aid is typically given to the less privileged facing legal challenges, such as evictions, domestic abuse, foreclosure, and more. That said, you should call a legal aid lawyer in Toronto if you cannot afford to hire legal services.
Eligibility for Legal Aid
Several factors determine whether one qualifies for legal aid. Those factors include income, health, safety, location, and the nature of the legal situation. The common challenge for those who qualify for legal aid is finding a law firm or agency that can take their case. Why? Because most legal agencies have a shortage of staffing and resources. The following are the eligibilities for legal aid.
- If You’re Facing Criminal Charges
You may qualify for free legal aid from a legal aid attorney or public defender if you’re facing criminal charges and you risk conviction. Public defenders are lawyers who represent criminal defendants who cannot afford legal representation by hiring a criminal attorney. Legal aid ensures all Canadians have access to legal counsel even if they cannot afford legal services.
- If You Cannot Afford Legal Services
You might be eligible for free legal aid if you convince a judge that you qualify for “indigent” representation. You’ll be expected to reimburse the court (partially) for the legal services you get. Qualifications for indigent representation or court-provided counsel can vary by state and even courts within the same jurisdiction.
- If You Are a Victim of Domestic Violence
Victims of domestic violence or people who fear for their safety can be eligible for legal aid from organisations that can help victims of domestic abuse gather evidence against perpetrators and help them file restraining orders. You can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline for quick help.
- Your Total Household Income is Below a Certain Percentage
You may be eligible for legal aid if the total income in your household is below the national average for the total members of your household. You may need to consult a pro bono attorney (private attorney who provides free legal help) to find out whether you qualify for legal aid based on your total house income.
- You’re a Disabled Veteran
Mentally and physically challenged Canadian Veterans may qualify for legal aid on certain issues, such as rent assistance, child visitation, and more. You can check the eligibility criteria for legal help from the local veterans association, including the services offered.
- You’re an Immigrant
Most legal agencies and pro-bono lawyers provide free legal help to immigrants and noncitizens who need help on various issues, such as visa applications, deportation proceedings, and employment authorizations. Eligibility can vary by case.
- When a Civil Rights Issue is Involved
Most legal aid attorneys and advocacy organisations specialise in specific areas of interest. For instance, you can secure legal aid in a pay discrimination lawsuit against your employer if the case has the potential to become a class action.
- If You’re a Community Organisation
Some legal firms provide legal assistance to private citizens and non-profit organisations that help improve underprivileged communities’ economic, cultural, social, and environmental status. Common challenges in disadvantaged communities include unsafe neighborhoods, poor & inadequate housing, unemployment, substance abuse, racial discrimination, and crime.
- If You Are Living with HIV/AIDS
Some HIV/AIDS legal organizations provide legal help to poor clients who have HIV or AIDS on various legal issues, including employment and housing discrimination, insurance challenges, issues related to family law, and more.
- If You Receive Financial Assistance from Other Programs
You may be eligible for legal aid if you receive financial assistance from specific public aid programs, such as the Food Stamps program and Disabled Assistance organisations.
Pros and Cons of Legal Aid
Legal aid has both advantages and disadvantages, just like everything else. The disadvantages of legal assistance include:
- Not easily accessible;
- Cases are not handled with the seriousness that they deserve;
- Most legal aid attorneys are selective;
- Service provision under legal aid is slow;
- Not everyone qualifies for legal aid because of the limiting criteria–genuine and needy clients may easily be disqualified.
On the other hand, the benefits of legal aid include:
- Help the less privileged access fair and timely justice;
- Provides a levelled legal playing field for all Canadians;
If you’re not eligible for free legal services based on the above-discussed criteria, you can schedule a free legal consultation with a local attorney to discuss alternative fee arrangements.