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December 03, 2020

Finding Legal Help Off-Base

Where should I start to look for a civilian lawyer?

One way is to get recommendations from a trusted friend, relative, or business associate. Be aware that each legal case is different and that a lawyer who did a great job handling a friend’s divorce case might not be the right person to handle your landlord-tenant dispute.

What about a local referral service?

Most communities have referral services to help the public find lawyers. These services usually recommend a lawyer in the area—sometimes at a reduced cost. Several services offer help to groups with unique characteristics, such as the elderly, immigrants, victims of domestic violence, or persons with disabilities. These services usually make referrals according to specific areas of law, helping you find a lawyer with the right concentration. Many referral services also have competency requirements for lawyers who wish to have referrals in a particular area of law.

Visit the Directory of Programs for more information on finding a lawyer referral service.

Are there any practical considerations to keep in mind when choosing a lawyer?

Yes, the lawyer's area of expertise and prior experience are important. A number of states have specialization programs that certify lawyers as specialists in certain stated types of law. The ABA's Standing Committee on Specialization also offers a Certification Program to determine whether your state has certification. You also may wish to ask about the type of cases your lawyer generally handles.

I want to hire a lawyer, but I do not have much money. Where can I find low-cost legal help for military families?

The Directory of Programs includes listings for free and low-cost legal services or legal aid programs wherever they are available. Some are specifically geared toward military families, and some provide help to low-income families. Keep in mind, however, that many of these programs have income eligibility limitations. If your household income exceeds a program’s eligibility limit, that program may not be able to assist you. You should contact these programs for more information about your own eligibility.

I have been accused of a crime, and I cannot afford a lawyer. What can I do?

If the government accuses you of committing a crime, the United States Constitution guarantees you the right to be represented by a lawyer in any case in which you could be incarcerated for six months or more. If you cannot afford a lawyer, the judge handling the case will either appoint a private lawyer to represent you free of charge or the government's public defender will handle your case, also at no charge.

Military members facing discharge from the military and criminal prosecution by the military (court-martial) should seek assistance from military attorneys known as trial defense or area defense counsels, and NOT from military legal assistance attorneys. If you have a non-military criminal defense need, look for help from the local public defender or local bar. You can also hire a civilian defense counsel to represent you during your military proceeding.