Finding Legal Help
This website has been designed especially to help low-income service members, veterans and their families. For that reason, we focus on legal services that are available free of charge.
We have indexed the three largest networks of free legal aid serving servicemembers, veterans and their families. Although there are not enough free legal services to help everyone, you may be able to find a free lawyer or advocate here. Go to our Find Local Help map feature.
Here is a list of the free legal help orgs that we have indexed on our site using the map feature:
- Military legal assistance services. We have incorporateed the data base from the Armed Forces Legal Services Locator. This listing includes the JAG officers and legal assistance officers for all branches of the service anywhere in the continental U.S. These lawyers specialize in deployment-related issues. They also help activated Reserve and National Guard members. However, they can help with only certain legal issues and only people in certain categories of current military service. Some require in-person requests; others will provide assistance over the phone.
- Civil legal aid offices. Every State has one or more organizations that provide free legal services for people with low incomes. Many of these programs are funded by the Legal Services Corporation. Many military and veteran families qualify for this assistance. These legal aid offices prioritize housing, family, consumer and public benefits issues. They generally limit their services to people with household incomes below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines. Some offices do have special programs that have no income guidelines (for example, legal help to victims of domestic violence or dealing with the IRS). Legal aid programs generally screen callers to determine income eligibility. Some offer help online. And all should provide you with referrals if they are not able to help you directly.
- VA-related issues. The States' Veteran's Affairs offices provide help to Veterans, including legal help. These offices have non-lawyer advocates who help with disability and other VA-related claims. There are also nonprofit and/or membership organizations that provide this help.
Here are some other types of organizations that you may look to for help. (Our map feature does not include listings for these offices.)
- Veterans Service Organizations generally focus on benefits available through the Veterans Administration, although they may also help with State VA benefits.
- Connections to civil or criminal legal services for veterans: Each Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center has a Veterans Justice Outreach Specialist who works with the court system and local law enforcement to assist justice-involved veterans. Their mission is to ensure that these veterans have timely access to VA mental health and substance use services, and other VA services and benfits as appropriate. In addition, they work with local legal service providers, such as legal aid organizations, law school clinics, and private firms providing pro bono service, to help veterans get help with civil legal needs like child support and landlord/tenant matters. Click here for a list of these VJO Specialists.
Other important legal help programs
The GI Rights Hotline (877-447-4487) uses trained civilian counselors to provide counseling and information on military discharges, AWOL and UA, and GI Rights. It includes both a national program and local hotline branches around the country.
A growing number of law schools, state bar associations and legal aid programs are adding free legal clinics focused on the needs of service members or veterans. We plan to add them to our database in the future. In the meantime, the free legal aid provider in your service area should be able to refer you to other legal clinics in your State, if they exist.
The American Bar Association has two special programs that rely on volunteer attorneys around the country to provide free legal help. Operation Enduring Lamp is designed to assist deployed and mobilized personnel. The Military Pro Bono Project helps JAG and military legal assistance officers access local legal services for service members.
Can private attorneys help me?
Informaton on how to use a private attorney is provided here, with thanks to the North Carolina Bar Association's LAMP project. In general, you will need to work out a fee agreement with those individuals to pay for their legal services.
Local "lawyer referral and information services" [LRIS] can help you find a private attorney in your community. These programs are usually run by state or local bar associations. We have included them in our database so that they will show up on the "Find Local Help" map. You will need to pay the attorney for their services and may need to pay the LRIS program for the referral. (On the map, free legal help shows up using a blue pointer; LRIS programs with a red pointer, indicating that the servcie is not free.)
There are specific rules that apply to the use of private attorneys in VA cases. For instance, they are not allowed to charge you for legal help in submitting your claim, but they can ask for fees if they help with an appeal after your claim is denied. More information about this process is provided here.
The VA also has special requirements that any attorney or advocate must meet to handle VA cases. The VA maintains a searchable database by State of individuals who have have met the VA requirements for handling VA claims on behalf of veterans.