This topic will help you understand the various kinds of cases that
Legal Aid offices typically handle, and the roles of paralegals and
Legal Aid lawyers.
Legal Aid Services of Oregon are non-profit corporations that provide
free legal help to low-income clients with non-criminal problems, including
This includes persons on welfare, food stamps, medical
assistance, Supplemental Security Income, Social Security and unemployment
compensation. If you have been denied benefits, have been asked to
repay benefits, or feel you are not getting the benefits you deserve,
a Legal Aid office may be able to help you.
This includes evictions, lockouts, confiscation of
personal property, foreclosures, housing discrimination, disputes over
repairs, rent, contracts, deposits, or difficulties with public housing.
This includes debt problems, problems with contracts
or warranties, repossession, wage garnishment, discrimination and counseling
on Small Claims Court and bankruptcy procedures.
Family Law Problems
This includes divorce, adoption, custody, support,
visitation or parenting time, domestic violence, guardianship, restraining
orders, defense in paternity suits, and modification of decrees. Most
Legal Aid offices limit divorce representation to certain types of
situations. Some offices do not take any divorce cases except in the
case of an emergency.
Senior Law Problems
This includes Medicaid, Medicare, guardianship
defense, and issues involving nursing homes or other types of care
Juvenile Law Problems
This includes expulsions and suspensions from
school and other disputes involving schools. In addition, some offices
may represent juveniles in criminal cases; however, this is by court
Some programs handle a limited number of cases in the
area of immigration law.
These are the types of cases that Legal Aid offices typically handle.
However, the types of cases each particular Legal Aid office accepts
may vary. Clients and Legal Aid staff have worked together to determine
the highest priority issues for low-income people in their area.
Legal Aid offices do not handle criminal cases. The court will appoint
a lawyer to handle a criminal case when the client cannot afford legal
In addition, Legal Aid cannot accept what are known as “fee-generating” cases.
In a fee-generating case, a lawyer’s fee is paid out of
the money awarded to the winning party. When you call Legal Aid about
your problem, they will tell you whether or not it is a fee-generating
Sometimes, a Legal Aid office may not be able to accept a case simply
because there are not enough Legal Aid lawyers available to provide
good quality assistance to all eligible people. However, in many communities,
private lawyers volunteer their time to represent low-income clients
at no cost and accept cases that the Legal Aid office is unable to
take. Also, if Legal Aid cannot take your case, the Oregon State Bar
Lawyer Referral Service can help you find one. The number to call in
the Portland area is (503) 684-3763, or toll-free from elsewhere in
Oregon, call (800) 452-7636.
In order to help as many eligible people as possible, most Legal Aid
offices also use paralegals to assist in their cases. Paralegals are
not lawyers and cannot practice law, but they can represent clients
in administrative hearings. For example, a paralegal may represent
clients in hearings involving welfare, Supplemental Security Income
or unemployment benefits. Paralegals can interview clients and advise
them of their benefits. They also research and investigate cases and
help negotiate with merchants, landlords or government officials. Paralegals
are supervised by lawyers and help provide quality legal services to
Just like private lawyers and paralegals, Legal Aid lawyers and paralegals
work for the best possible resolution of the case for their client.
And, just like private lawyers and their clients, communication between
Legal Aid clients and their lawyers or paralegals is confidential.
If you would like help with your legal problem and feel that you may
qualify for Legal Aid, call the office nearest your home to find out
if you are eligible. Note that Legal Aid offices are always busy, and
there may be a delay before an appointment can be made.
George Wolff, Oregon State Bar Lawyer Referral Department
Manager, June 2008.