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Frequently Asked Questions

 

WHAT IS LEGAL AID?

Legal Aid of Western Michigan provides free legal services in non¬criminal cases to low income and elderly residents in 17 counties in Western Michigan.

WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR LEGAL SERVICES?

Applicants must qualify for our services under financial guidelines. These guidelines are based on household size, income and assets. Most families who receive government benefits or who have minimum wage jobs are eligible for our services.

WHAT KIND OF CASES DOES LEGAL AID HANDLE?

Legal Aid considers cases in most areas of civil law. The most common are:

Government Benefits: This includes problems with Welfare (DHS), Food Stamps, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, Unemployment Compensation and Veteran’s Benefits. You may have been recently denied or terminated from one of these programs, or had the amount of your grant reduced. If you don’t understand the reason for the action or if you believe the action was incorrect, you should contact Legal Aid.

Consumer Problems: This includes a wide variety of cases including loans, bill collection, problems with utility companies, repossession and garnishment. For example, if your creditors are harassing you or if you have been sued by a creditor, you should consider contacting Legal Aid to discuss the problem. Legal Aid may also be able to assist you with filing bankruptcy if your wages are being garnished or you are in danger of losing your home.

Housing ¬Landlord/Tenant: Legal problems may occur when a landlord evicts his/her tenants, raises the rent, shuts off utilities, fails to make needed repairs, or refuses to return a security deposit. Legal Aid may be able to assist you with these problems. We can also help homeowners with land contracts, faulty home improvements, financing scams, title problems and mortgage foreclosures.

Family Law: Legal Aid represents clients who need a divorce because of domestic violence and represents clients who are defending custody cases.

Other Matters: Each office handles a limited number of other cases. If you do not see your problem listed here, contact the office that serves your county to see if it can assist you with your legal problem.

We cannot handle any criminal cases: If you have been charged with a crime and cannot afford an attorney, you should ask the court to appoint an attorney for you.

HOW DO I GET HELP WITH MY LEGAL PROBLEM?

You should call the toll free number listed for the office which serves your county. The person who answers the phone will explain the process for getting help. You should be prepared to answer questions about your household income and the nature of your legal problem. In some cases you may speak with an attorney right away. However, in other cases you may have to wait a week or two for an in¬person appointment so you should call as soon as you think you may have a legal problem.

HOW DO WE DECIDE TO ACCEPT A CASE?

Our offices do not have the resources to represent everyone who needs our services. Because of this, we have to make decisions on which cases take priority. In each case, we will consider whether the person will suffer serious harm if we don’t represent them; what, if anything, we can do to help them; and whether the service they need can be provided by a private attorney for a low fee. We also consider the effect that the case will have on the low¬income community as a whole.

DOES LEGAL AID REPRESENT GROUPS?

Our offices are interested in representing groups and organizations because this allows us to serve a greater number of people more effectively. A group or organization is eligible for our services if it mainly contains low¬income people or if it serves the interests of the low¬income community. Such groups might include community organizations or organizations of welfare recipients.

CAN LEGAL AID REFER ME TO A PRIVATE ATTORNEY?

If Legal Aid cannot assist you, you should call the State Bar Lawyer Referral Services at 1¬800¬968¬0738 for the names of private attorneys in your area.

HOW DO I FILE A COMPLAINT IF MY CASES IS NOT ACCEPTED?

If you have complaints or questions regarding the services provided by Legal Aid of Western Michigan, you should contact the managing attorney of your local office. If you are not satisfied with the response, you should contact the Executive Director in writing or by telephone.

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