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A Guide to Free or Low-Cost Legal Services

From The Florida Bar

“Legal Aid in Florida” www.floridabar.org/consumerpamphlets

If you have a civil legal problem but cannot afford to hire a private lawyer, you may have access to the legal system through your local legal services/legal aid organization, which provides free or low-cost legal services to people with low incomes.

Providing access to legal representation to those in need has been a tradition in this country. Earlier programs operated by volunteer lawyers from local bar associations were called legal aid societies.

Later, a federal effort to provide funds for legal counsel to the needy began in the mid-1960s. The federal government established, within the Office of Economic Opportunity, an Office of Legal Services to distribute federal money to local programs called Legal Services Organizations. These programs were transferred to the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), created by Congress in 1975.

Today in Florida, legal aid societies and legal services organizations in various counties are funded by federal, state and local governments, The Florida Bar Foundation, The Florida Bar, local bar associations and special grants. Florida is divided into seven regions, each having programs that receive LSC funding as well as programs that do not receive LSC funding, but are funded by other sources, and thus able to accept a broader range of cases. Both programs work toward the common goal of equal justice and legal representation for all under the legal system.

What services are available?

Lawyers in a legal services office provide the same legal services as any other attorney. They can advise and represent clients in most areas of civil law, although each program has priorities for the types of cases it will take. Because the number of people demanding legal services exceeds the staff and money available to handle cases, legal services offices limit the types of cases taken.

Criminal cases are not handled, because the state provides public defenders to represent people accused of criminal actions who cannot afford private attorneys.

Also, the legal services offices generally do not deal with cases in which a person is seeking money as a settlement. In such cases, a private attorney usually will represent a client without any initial charge, collecting a fee only if the client’s case is won. Then the attorney’s fee is a percentage of the client’s settlement. This is called a contingency fee.

You should check with the office in your community if you have questions about the types of cases handled.

The following are a few examples of the types of cases usually handled:

  • Civil issues
  • Consumer
  • Divorce
  • Domestic violence
  • Education
  • Family law
  • Foreclosure defense
  • Health welfare
  • Immigration issues
  • Landlord/tenant
  • Public benefits
  • Senior benefits
  • Social Security

Who can apply?

Free legal services are meant for people of low income who cannot afford the services of an attorney. Many programs have different standards, and you will have to check with your community office to find out if you qualify. Some offices base their eligibility only on income, while others will consider ownership of property and size of family. It is important that you call your legal assistance provider to learn whether you qualify.

South Florida locations

Regional

• FIU College of Law Educational Advocacy Clinic in Miami, 305-348-7541

• Americans for Immigrant Justice, Miami Office, 305-573-1106, www.aijustice.org

• Florida Justice Institute (cases concerning incarceration and conditions) in Miami, 305-358-2081, www.floridajusticeinstitute.org

• Legal Services of Greater Miami Inc. in Miami, 305-576-0080, www.legalservicesmiami.org

Broward

• Coast to Coast Legal Aid of South Florida Inc. in Plantation, 954-736-2400, www.legalaid.org

• Legal Aid Service of Broward County Inc. in Plantation, 954-765-8950, www.browardlegalaid.org

Miami Dade

• Guardianship Program for Dade County Inc. in Miami, 305-592-7642, www.guardianshipprogram.org

• Legal Aid Society of Dade County Bar Association in Miami, 305-579-5733 (also use this number for Florida City, Homestead and Miami Beach)

• Legal Services of Greater Miami Inc. 305-576-0080, www.legalservicesmiami.org

Monroe

• Legal Services of Greater Miami Inc. 305-576-0080, www.legalservicesmiami.org

Palm Beach

• Florida Rural Legal Services in Belle Glade, 561-993-0003, www.frls.org

• Florida Rural Legal Services in West Palm Beach, 561-820-8902, www.frls.org

• Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County Inc. in West Palm Beach, 561-655-8944, www.legalaidpbc.org

• Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County Inc. in Belle Glade, 561-993-3836, www.legalaidpbc.org

• Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County Inc. in West Palm Beach, 561-833-5787, www.legalaidpbc.org

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