Going through a court process like a divorce or bankruptcy can be stressful enough, but adding in the often large expenses can make it nearly impossible for many low-income individuals. There are many legal offices and non-profit organizations that offer free legal help to those who can't afford an attorney, offering services like filling paperwork and representation in court, but as the recession has increased demand for these services, it has also endangered the groups that fill those needs.
In many states, the Bar Association can help low-income individuals find representation, either with one of the firms associated with the association or through non-profit groups like Legal Aid Society. For those with internet access, the American Bar Association lists these resources by state..
Once the individual has connected with the right organization, they can meet with a lawyer who reviews their situation and offers advice or representation. These organizations can offer help with a range of legal issues, from defense against criminal charges to help in family court. One of the most common forms of free legal aid offered is help with the home foreclosure process, one that has grown as the housing crisis and subsequent recession has led to record numbers of foreclosures.
The recession has had other effects on free legal aid offered in the United States. As the Wall Street Journal has reported, legal aid organizations have planned large layoffs for 2012. These groups were hit by federal cutbacks passed in late 2011 that slashed funding for civil legal assistance by 14 percent, dropping it to $348 million from $402.4 million.
Officials at Legal Services Corp., established by Congress in 1974 to disburse funding to legal aid organizations, said they expect a 13.3 percent drop in the number of lawyers employed and a 15.4 percent reduction in paralegals. This change is expected to slash the number of pro bono hours offered by these organizations. Rural individuals are expected to be hit particularly hard, as these civil legal assistance groups have already been scarce in these areas, officials from Legal Services Corp. have claimed.