How to Find Free or Low Cost Legal Services in New York City
These services are generally available only to those of limited financial means. However, there are also certain legal services that are available for those of moderate means. If you are a person of limited financial means who faces a civil legal issue — one that is not a criminal offense — certainly the most comprehensive source of information about your legal rights is LawHelp.org. Its assistance is also available in Spanish at AyudaLegalNY.org. If you click on words, terms or agencies on this website, you will encounter a variety of providers of legal assistance to tenants, consumers, senior citizens, small business owners and victims of discrimination. Certain organizations specialize in providing legal assistance to persons who encounter specific problems with the law. A very partial list of these organizations would include:
Civil and Other Actions
- Landlord-Tenant Disputes: Manhattan, Bronx, Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens
- Divorce: Basic Information, Child and Spousal Support, Other Legal Channels and Custody and Visitation
- Gender: Sex Based Discrimination, Filing a Complaint: Federal, State, New York City
- Sexual Orientation: Filing a Complaint: State, City and Civil Rights Generally
- Domestic Violence: Hotline: 800-799-SAFE, Legal Assistance and Shelters
- Immigration Issues: "Green Card", Working, Deportation and Removal
- Discrimination and Civil Rights: Racial or Ethnic, at the Federal, State and City levels
- Disabilities: Rights and Representation, Filing a Complaint: Federal, State and City
- Other Civil Actions: LawHelp.org and Legal Services NYC
Telephone Help: Another immediate source of free legal advice for income for New York City residents in English or in Spanish is the New York City Bar's Legal Hotline that operates Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at: 212-626-7383. And another excellent source of information for those of low income facing civil or criminal issues is The Legal Aid Society of New York and you may telephone that organization in English or in Spanish at: 212-577-3300.
How is "Limited Means" defined by those who provide legal services to New York City residents?
The various providers of legal services to the indigent generally define this by the use of specific "Income Guidelines" that — in an attempt to recognize the high cost of living in New York City — are often set at 125% or 187.5% or 200% of what the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services determines are the 2012 poverty guidelines.
"Moderate Means" There has also been an effort by The New York City Bar Association Justice Center and other organizations to provide people of moderate means with greater access to legal assistance with certain family law issues, home mortgage foreclosures and certain issues confronting small business owners.
Every person charged with a crime of consequence in the State of New York has the right to an attorney. In the Unified Court System of the State of New York and within the New York City Criminal Court the court may appoint an attorney to represent you. Many of those with limited financial resources charged with various criminal offenses at the state and city level are represented by members of The Legal Aid Society that has branches in all five boroughs.
In certain cases, the court may also appoint a lawyer under a program commonly known as "18B." A variety of other organizations also provide free or low cost representation to criminal defendants including in Manhattan the New York County Defender Services, Bronx Defenders, Brooklyn Defenders and the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers maintains a Directory of other organizations that represent indigent defendants.
At certain times an attorney in private practice may be appointed or otherwise represent a criminal defendant "pro bono" — that is, in the public interest and not for a fee. If you are charged with a federal crime, the federal district court or appellate court may appoint a member of the Federal Defenders of New York for the Southern and Eastern Districts that provides counsel to residents of all five boroughs.
The Correctional Services Program of the New York Public Library also provides a variety of books and other useful information to those who are currently incarcerated in federal, state and city facilities as well as Connections [PDF] to help the recently released seek work.
LawHelp.org also assists those who need to understand the civil consequences of a criminal charge or conviction.