Free and Low-Cost Legal Assistance for New Yorkers

| August 10, 2012 4:00 AM

Whether you or a loved one find yourself facing foreclosure, employment issues, or a misdemeanor or criminal charge, here are helpful resources to inform you about legal processes, from hotlines to free legal counsel.

Even if you’re prepared to hire a lawyer, spend some time doing background research on websites that have extensive information on the law and what options are available for your given legal situation. If you are a lawyer and want to get involved with pro bono services and legal aid  in New York, see the regional website of probono.net, probono.net./ny.

Web Resources

LawHelp.org/NY

For questions about housing, discrimination and civil rights, or tax issues, LawHelp.org can help you get information you need. Low-income individuals can see where they stand on the federal poverty level chart which many legal services use to determine eligibility for free legal counsel. If you do decide to go to court without an attorney, make sure you know what paperwork to fill out. The website also provides a list of free legal services in the city based on your issue, and a number of hotlines to call for immediate assistance.

WomensLaw.org

If you are facing domestic abuse or sexual assault, know the law and your rights. WomensLaw.org is a great resource for women to learn about the different types of abuse and where to get help. Abuse can also lead to other consequences. Information on restraining orders, divorce, child custody, and housing rights can also be found on the website.

Hotlines

If you are in need of immediate assistance, the New York County District Attorney’s Office has hotlines to call if you’re facing problems in areas such as:

  • Hate Crimes
  • Sex Crimes
  • Cyber Crimes/Identity Theft
  • Public Corruption
  • Immigrant Affairs
  • Elder Abuse

The Legal Aid Society, a nonprofit that provides free legal counsel to low-income families and individuals, also operates a number of hotlines regarding:

  • Homeless Family Rights
  • Employment Law
  • Immigration Law
  • Low-Income Taxpayers

If your situation is a complex and you need to talk to a case handler or attorney in person, the city has a wide range of free legal clinics and firms, public defenders, and organizations to help you get the legal counsel you need.

Criminal

Housing

Immigration

Employment

Family/Domestic

Youth

Criminal Cases

New York County Defender Services

225 Broadway, Manhattan

Represents low-income individuals in Manhattan with criminal charges

If you follow police or legal dramas on TV, you know that criminally charged individuals have several Miranda rights including the right to an attorney. The New York County Defender Services provide just that. If you have been charged with a crime and cannot afford a private attorney to represent you in court, the NYCDS (along with public defender firms like the Legal Aid Society and offices in other boroughs) acts as your attorney for the entirety of your case. The nonprofit law firm has a team of 45 attorneys, who work with social workers, immigration specialists and investigators to defend 18,000 cases per year.  Call (212) 803-5100 for more information.

 

The Bronx Defenders

860 Courtlandt Avenue, Bronx

A suspect is arrested in Lower Manhattan. Flickr/dandeluca.

Represents cases in the Bronx

The Bronx Defenders supports and provides holistic legal counsel to those who face criminal charges. This means assessing clients as a whole and taking into account the various other issues that may arise as a result of a charge that impact employment, family, mental health and immigration status. The public defense practice provides services free of charge to criminally charged clients, and is operated by a staff of 135 pro bono criminal and family defense attorneys, paralegals, and social workers. Walk-in hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m; you can also contact an attorney via email.

 

The Legal Aid Society

Headquarters: 199 Water Street, Manhattan; locations in all five boroughs

Represents low-income New Yorkers

The Legal Aid Society is a New York City nonprofit that is the country’s largest provider of free legal counsel to low-income families and individuals whose incomes are at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty level. Exceptions made for those who make more, and it is important to note that different locations and clinics have varying eligibility rules which are detailed here. The organization focuses civil, criminal, and juvenile rights practices and handles over 300,000 cases annually with the help of 1,000 volunteers from law firms and corporate law departments in its Pro Bono Program, and and by working with lawyers and social workers in 25 neighborhood courthouse offices. It operates a variety of hotlines, such as for homeless families, immigrants and low-income taxpayers.  You can call headquarters at (212) 577-3300 or check out their various locations to find an office nearest you that best suits your needs.

Also check out Brooklyn Defender Services.

Housing, Employment, Domestic/Family, Immigration

City Bar Justice Center

42 West 44th Street, Manhattan

Represents low-income New Yorkers

As a part of the New York City Bar Association, the City Bar Justice Center provides pro bono legal services to those who cannot otherwise afford a lawyer or legal counsel. The center focuses on specific projects and cases that relate to Economic Justice, Immigrant Justice, and Access to Justice Innovations. Clients who cannot afford to pay can call (212) 626-7383 to reach the legal hotline or make an appointment for the Monday Night Bar Clinic.  The clinic is a free program that runs from October to August where attorneys can meet with you to discuss legal issues such as bankruptcy, employment, housing and marriage law. If you can afford to pay, contact the Legal Referral Service at (212) 626-7373. The hotline is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. The Justice Center also recommends using LawHelp.org which offers clients referral information and educational materials specific to issues in New York state.

 

Legal Services NYC

All five boroughs

Represents low-income New Yorkers

Staff and supporters of Legal Services NYC participating in the 2012 NYC Heritage of Pride March on June 24th. Photo courtesy of Legal Services NYC.

Legal Services NYC, which helps over 50,000 New Yorkers each year, is exclusively devoted to providing free civil legal services and is the largest organization in the country to do so. Housing rights, employment and consumer rights are just some of its areas of expertise. The organization also strives to provide help to single parents, seniors, workers with disabilities, and clients living with HIV/AIDS. Attorneys, paralegals and social workers help over 10,000 families each year avoid losing their homes and its special projects include pension counseling, bankruptcy assistance and immigration. See locations and various hotlines on its website.

 

MFY Legal Services, Inc.

299 Broadway, Manhattan

MFY Attorney Tanya Kessler with residents of a “three-quarter house” in Brooklyn rallying against the landlord’s practice of illegally evicting tenants. Photo courtesy of MFY Legal Services, Inc.

For everyone

MFY Legal Services Inc. started as a small storefront office in the Lower East Side. Now it provides free legal assistance to thousands of New Yorkers each year on civil issues, making sure to help those who are most vulnerable or underserved. Providing the services are 300 paralegals, volunteer attorneys and pro bono private firms. Its projects are for specific populations  — the Adult Home Advocacy Project helps citywide residents of adult homes, the Foreclosure Prevention Project helps homeowners in Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island, and the Workplace Justice Project helps low-income and immigrant workers citywide. If you believe you qualify for one of the projects, you can speak with a lawyer via phone to find out more about your specific issue and whether or not you have a legal claim. A full list of projects can be found on its website or you can call (212) 417-3700 for immediate assistance.

 

New York Legal Assistance Group

All five boroughs, Westchester County and Long Island

Represents low-income New Yorkers

The New York Legal Assistance Group's new Mobile Legal Help Center will serve over 2,000 New Yorkers annually. Photo courtesy of New York Legal Assistance Group.

Every year, the New York Legal Assistance Group provides free civil legal counsel to thousands of New Yorkers, in areas such as domestic violence, financial counseling and immigration protection. NYLAG assists lower middle class individuals and families and the working poor who cannot afford counsel or a private attorney. The NYLAG works with courts, hospitals and community-based organizations all over New York City as well as in Westchester County and Long Island. The organization also works with 300 health and human service agencies to provide holistic care for those in need. The firm is operated by a staff of over 100 attorneys, as well as over 800 pro bono attorneys and volunteers from private firms. Call (212) 613-5000 to reach a case handler and check out the website for intake hours specific to your issue. You can also find answers to general legal questions you may have before a consultation. Earlier this year, the NYLAG  launched a Mobile Legal Help Center to provide free services to those who face physical barriers to access.

Also check out The Legal Aid Society.

 

Youth

The Center for Urban Pedagogy

"I Got Arrested! Now What?" helps teens navigate the juvenile justice system through a comic book-like pamphlet. The pamphlet is a collaboration between illustrator Danica Novgordoff, the Center for Court Innovation and the Center for Urban Pedagogy. Image courtesy of the Center for Urban Pedagogy.

If you’re a juvenile and you get caught up in a criminal case, it can be daunting and confusing. Fortunately, the Center for Urban Pedagogy, a nonprofit organization that uses art and design to increase civic engagement, created a colorful comic to make navigating the justice system less of a mystery. As a part of their series “Making Policy Public,” the booklet  “I Got Arrested! Now What?”, produced in partnership with the Center for Court Innovation, helps teens learn about next steps in the juvenile justice system, and how to best advocate for themselves so as to avoid penalties and end up in court again. You can download your free copy of the comic on the website. “Making Policy Public” also addresses a number of other civic issues such as immigration, social security, and street vendor rights.

 

Day One

Manhattan

For teenagers facing domestic or sexual abuse

According to the New York City Department of Health, one in ten teens in New York City have reported physical or sexual violence in their relationship within the past year. Through community education, legal advocacy and leadership development, Day One, a New York City nonprofit, helps youth identify and maintain healthy relationships and learn about the resources available to stop dating violence. Besides support groups and individual counseling, Day One’s attorneys provide teens with information, guidance and legal representation. To get help, call (800) 214-4150 or text (646) 535-DAY1.

Also see The Legal Aid Society.

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