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How Legal Aid WorksPrintE-mailPDF

The following questions and answers are from the Ohio Legal Assistant Foundation's website.

What is civil legal aid?

Civil legal aid in Ohio refers to the free legal services provided by hundreds of attorneys and paralegals throughout the state. These professionals work through local and regional legal aid offices, volunteer pro bono programs, and reduced fee contracted services to help thousands of low-income people gain access to legal representation. Civil legal aid helps low-income people resolve urgent, non-criminal legal problems that make a difference in their everyday lives. For example, elderly people are protected from unlawful evictions, women and children are protected from violence in their homes, and veterans get help to receive the financial benefits they have earned and need.

How are civil legal aid services delivered in Ohio?

There are seven regionally based legal aid societies in Ohio that provide a range of civil legal services. Much like a large law firm, each legal aid society has staff attorneys and administrative personnel. Legal aid attorneys are competent in various issues facing those living in poverty and may also specialize in a particular area, such as housing, employment, consumer, or domestic violence. In addition to traditional one-on-one counseling, many programs have developed regional intake systems and on-line resources to provide clients with advice, brief services, and/or refer them to a staff attorney or other, more appropriate local resource provider. In 2001, Ohio’s legal aid providers assisted over 148,000 low-income households.

How is civil legal aid funded in Ohio?

The primary source of funding for civil legal aid in Ohio is the Ohio legal aid fund. The Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation administers this fund, which consists of interest proceeds from Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) and Interest on Trust Accounts (IOTA) and from a filing fee surcharge on civil cases filed in municipal, county, and common pleas courts. Most legal aid providers also receive grants from Congress each year through the Legal Services Corporation, as well as from other sources, including individual donors, foundations, businesses, United Way contributions, state bar foundations, and state and local governments. In 2001, OLAF allocated $14.9 million from the legal aid fund, which was supplemented by $21.1 million in private and other public dollars, for the support of Ohio’s legal aid delivery system.

Why is there a need for civil legal aid?

More than 1.1 million Ohioans are still living below the poverty level. According to a 1994 study conducted by the American Bar Association, at least 40 percent of low and moderate-income households experience a legal problem each year. Many of these people would not be able to afford access to the courts to resolve their legal troubles without assistance from civil legal aid delivery system. While legal problems do not discriminate by income, those in poverty are disproportionately and adversely affected by their inability to pay for an attorney. Compounded by the feeling of being shut out of the legal system, individuals living in poverty do not turn to courts for solutions because they believe that the system will not help them. Civil legal aid helps low-income people resolve urgent, non-criminal legal problems that make a difference in the everyday lives, such as protecting the elderly from unlawful evictions, making sure women and children are protected from violence in their homes, and helping veterans receive the financial benefits they have earned and need. For this reason, if nothing more, legal aid societies have focused their efforts on the poorest in our society to ensure that they are treated fairly.

For More Information

For more information on the legal aid system, please visit the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation.

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