Pro Bono Requirements


There are two ways a person is able to qualify for legal help. The first is being unable to afford paying for legal services without some type of financial assistance. The second is being involved in a situation where legal help is required to procure a valid outcome regardless of income levels and financial status.

Qualifying for private paid legal help means having a case worthy of being accepted by an attorney. Qualifying for pro bono or free/reduced legal aid additionally requires proving your inability to pay for such services without financial assistance of some kind. The two situations are similar in the way each requires a valid case. Being able to afford attorney fees and legal expenses or not is the main difference between the two.

What Type of Legal Help Do I Qualify For?

There are numerous types of practiced law. There are even more variations in case types and factors qualifying someone for legal help. Are you a victim or an accused perpetrator? Is your case winnable? Are you able to afford your own private attorney or does your income level prevent paying for such expenses? The answers to such questions also factor into the type of legal help for which you qualify.

Legal Help Supply vs. Demand

There were over 286,289 civil cases filed in the U.S. during a twelve-month period ending on March 31, 2019. This number is three percent and 9,279 cases higher than the previous annual recording. Criminal defense case filings increased by eleven percent to 90,473 cases during the same, recorded period of time.

Many people need attorney representation and legal help. Being able to pay for an attorney does not necessitate his or her willingness or availability to take your case. Those unable to pay for attorney fees and legal expenses are either at the mercy of official, qualifying factors or a lawyer who believes in the win percentage and viability of a case. Read on to learn more about how to qualify for legal help, where to find it and what types of services are available. 

How to Qualify for Legal Help in Criminal Court

Criminal cases where incarceration is possible are treated differently than civil or other non-criminal cases. The U.S. constitution, via the Sixth Amendment, states all citizens have the right to legal representation when the outcome of a case could lead to time in prison. The court must see evidence of your inability to pay for legal services. Possessions, investments and other assets are all assessed and verified by the court. An official, legal affidavit must be written, stating your position of indigence. Your request for a court-appointed attorney is best made within the first twenty-four hours following your arrest. Once indigence is proven, the court will assign a public defender to your case.

Differences Between Civil and Criminal Law

Criminal law involves crime and punishment. Civil law involves disputes and resolutions between individuals or organizations. Both types of cases reply on a burden of proof and the presentation of viable evidence. Civil law cases frequently result in some form of compensation paid by the losing party to the winning party, however. The results of criminal law cases result in either an innocent or guilty verdict, the latter leading to potential incarceration.

Having a Winnable Case

The ability to pay a private attorney to take your case does not mean the attorney will automatically accept it. Word of mouth is a powerful advertiser and the majority of practicing attorneys value their reputation. Taking a losing case for the money is not conducive to a positive reputation in the legal arena, and therefore most attorneys will only accept cases they believe they can, or at least should, win. Qualifying for paid private legal help in a civil matter therefore requires more than money. It additionally requires having a winnable case, being organized with your information and being prepared to see your case through to the end.

Qualifying for Free and Low Cost Legal Help

Qualifying for free or low cost legal aid is based on household income levels, case type, case urgency and attorney availability. Most states set qualifying household income requirements for legal aid recipients at 125 percent of the federal poverty level or below. The amount of people in each household is calculated and considered accordingly. The approximate maximum/annual income level for one a one-person U.S. household to qualify for free or reduced-cost legal aid is:

  • $19.937.50 in Alaska

  • $18,350 in Hawaii

  • $15,950 in the remaining forty-eight U.S. states                                                                     

Legal Aid

Legal aid helps people who cannot afford an attorney to get free or affordable legal assistance. This assistance can be in the form of basic advice or general referrals for additional guidance. It can also be in the form of actual legal representation in court. Not all legal aid is completely free, however, and nominal court costs, fines, fees or reduced service charges can be applied.

The Legal Services Corporation government website provides information on legal aid offices and ways to apply in each state. Civil legal aid cases can include unlawful evictions and terminations. Other types of cases potentially qualifying for civil legal aid can include:

  • Child custody

  • Physical abuse

  • Landlord neglect and other rental neglect issues

  • Theft and property damage

  • Denial of government benefits

  • Reentry discrimination

  • Immigration status issues

  • Education and employment discrimination

Workers Compensation and Personal Injury Cases

Workers compensation and personal injury lawyers most often receive compensation only after they win your case and/or secure a settlement. Many lawyers practicing these types of law also cover certain up-front case expenses knowing your case will eventually be won. Being injured on the job or in certain types of accidents can automatically qualify you for legal help with deferred payments due only after victory is achieved.