What is Civil Legal Aid?
Civil legal aid provides free legal assistance to those facing urgent non-criminal legal problems with nowhere else to turn for help.
Civil legal aid is often as basic as informing clients about their rights and responsibilities, advising them how to resolve a problem, or writing letters or making phone calls to seek resolution. Some legal problems are more complex and require the help of an advocate skilled in a particular area of the law.
Examples of the assistance provided include protecting the elderly from unlawful evictions, making sure women and children are protected from violence in their homes, and helping persons with disabilities receive the financial benefits they have earned and need.
Civil legal aid ensures justice for all Americans, regardless of their income. Without civil legal aid, many people would not be able to afford access to the courts to resolve their legal troubles.
Who Benefits from Civil Legal Aid?
Civil legal aid benefits the over 200,000 low-income and vulnerable elderly residents living in New Hampshire. The people served encompass all races, ethnic groups and ages, ranging from veterans and retirees to urban low-wage workers and victims of natural disasters.
Local communities also benefit by civil legal aid by making them safer, fairer places to live. Civil legal aid also saves local communities tax dollars by obtaining federal benefits and child support for clients to help them become self-sufficient and less dependent on local assistance programs.
How is Civil Legal Aid funded?
New Hampshire’s civil legal aid programs are all private nonprofit organizations funded in a variety of ways including federal, state and local government funding, individual donations, foundations, businesses, United Way contributions, and the New Hampshire Bar Foundation.
The money raised through the Campaign for Legal Services provides critical support for these programs.
Availability of Civil Legal Aid
The need for legal aid in New Hampshire has never been greater.
From February 2009 to September 2009, legal assistance was the most requested service from callers to 2-1-1 NH, the statewide clearinghouse for social services such as food assistance or homeless services. While the need is overwhelming, funding is dwindling for these services, resulting in reduced numbers of advocates available to help low-income people with urgent legal problems.
Legal assistance is out of reach for an overwhelming majority of low-income New Hampshire residents. According to the findings and recommendations contained in Challenge to Justice: A Report on Self-Represented Litigants in New Hampshire Courts:
Although New Hampshire’s legal aid programs provide services to many clients each year, they are forced to turn away countless more or are limited to providing them with advice over the telephone or through a pamphlet.
Legal representation enables low-income persons to protect their rights more fully.
Unrepresented tenants are often unsuccessful in asserting defenses, presenting evidence, or making legal arguments that might have changed the outcome if a lawyer had represented them.
Legal representation helps battered women in the long-term to leave violent relationships permanently.
Because low-income clients lack access to attorneys and are most likely to represent themselves, legal services (legal aid) should be expanded significantly.