This is a nation of laws. Some of them are obvious, some of them are not. As regular citizens, we are not expected to know every facet of the American legal system – be it federal, state, or municipal. That is the whole reason that lawyers exist. Make all the jokes you want about them, they do serve a vital purpose. However, they aren’t cheap. Paying for a good lawyer shouldn’t be only a privilege of the well-to-do. All too often, lower-income defendants are left to overworked and underpaid public defenders and lost in a cycle of incarceration, release, and recidivism. It should come as no surprise that the overwhelming majority of incarcerated Americans are from lower-income families. There is hard evidence that those with lower incomes are considered more of a criminal risk than their more affluent counterparts. In Chicago, police have adopted a predictive algorithm that determines a person’s risk level of committing a crime at some point in the future. The intention of this program is to find those considered to be the biggest threats and attempt to get them the resources they need to go down a different path, before it’s too late. Unfortunately, it’s not a stretch to see how this technology can create a bias against those it dictates as being “high risk.” Those considered to be bigger threats become subject to what is known as “proactive policing” which could mean a lot of different things to different people. Want to know one of the factors that raises your threat level? Poverty. Do the less financially fortunate commit more crimes? An answer may have instantly popped into your head one way or the other, but that is a debate for another time. What’s not debatable is the fact that low-income citizens are put in prison at a disproportionate rate. Why? There are various socioeconomic and political reasons, but one of the easiest to fix is: Lack of access to effective counsel.

Access to Effective Counsel

Legal assistance isn’t just important in criminal proceedings. In fact, you’re more likely to need a lawyer for civil reasons than because of any crime. In the case of civil matters, you aren’t even afforded the ‘luxury’ of a public defender. So, what do you do? Your first inclination may be to scratch up what you can and find the least expensive lawyer possible. This probably isn’t the best way to go for a variety of reasons – ‘you get what you pay for’ being one, and ‘even inexpensive lawyers aren’t typically all that inexpensive’ being another. Think outside the box.

Much like anything else, there are organizations like,, in place to help those in need of inexpensive or free legal aid, you just need to find them. It’s important to mention though, these legal aid societies are typically more about offering advice than they are about actually litigating a trial. Furthermore, as many of these groups are government funded, the selection process is quite rigorous. All the same, it can be a great resource if you can gain access to it and it is definitely an avenue worth exploring.

Contact Your State Directly

This may end up being your best bet. When you contact either your county or state, specifically the bar association, they can put you in contact with firms looking to take on pro bono (for no compensation) cases. This will give you the access to high-priced firms at no cost to you. Of course, there is no guarantee you’ll receive these services, but they can also point you in the direction of other aid targeted towards lower-income clients.

Law Students

The rules are different everywhere, but law students (under the supervision of a licensed attorney) are usually allowed to give legal aid in limited capacities. Again, they most likely won’t be able to actually litigate a trial for you. But, the goal of most legal actions is to settle out of court anyway.

Be Your Own Lawyer

Last and most certainly least, you can represent yourself. There’s a saying that anyone who does this has a fool for a client. Well, that saying came about before the internet, where (hypothetically) you could learn everything you’d need to know on your own. Still, this is not a good idea. Actual lawyers usually won’t even represent themselves in legal disputes. The only reason it’s being mentioned at all is to dissuade anyone from trying it.   Whether you find yourself in civil discomfort or criminal jeopardy, access to legal aid is a tool you’ll want to arm yourself with. Even if you can’t afford high-priced lawyers, there are steps you can take to protect your legal interest. You don’t have to go it alone. Let us know if you have any other creative means of obtaining low-cost legal counsel!