Last updated: September 27, 2013
Sometimes you need a lawyer, but just can’t quite afford one. If this is your situation, there are a variety of agencies in Cleveland that may be able to help you with legal advice or representation. Depending on your income level, the services may be free or provided at a reduced cost. Below are a few you may wish to contact.
The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland handles a wide variety of civil matters. Their focus is providing high quality legal services to the vulnerable and low-income. Legal Aid Society of Cleveland serves Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake and Lorain counties in consumer, family, housing, education, work, public benefits and immigration matters. They sponsor free legal advice clinics on an ongoing basis throughout Cleveland on issues such as wills and estates, child support, sealing criminal records, naturalization, and more. Check their calendar for specific details. You may also call them directly to discuss your specific matter. Assistance is available in English, Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic, French, Vietnamese, Russian, and Swahili. In addition, their Resource Center has an extensive collection of brochures and answers to Frequently Asked Questions that provide general legal information.
The Milton A. Kramer Law Clinic is staffed by 3rd year law students working under the supervision of law professors. It is designed to provide legal services to community members who are unable to afford legal counsel. The clinic handles civil, criminal, and transactional matters. Don’t underestimate the talent of these law students: in 2011, the Clinic won a $1.1 million verdict on behalf of a family in a home repair fraud matter. You may contact the Clinic by telephone (above) or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Public Defender’s Office assists low-income criminal defendants. The Cuyahoga County Office is split into four divisions: Felony, Appellate, Juvenile and Municipal. The Felony Division generally represents individuals as assigned by the courts. If you are charged with a misdemeanor, however, (e.g., DUI/OVI, petty theft, simple assault) and qualify for the income guidelines, you can seek representation through this office even without a court appointment. Note, though, that the Public Defender does not handle routine traffic offenses (speeding, parking tickets or equipment violations). The Public Defender may also be able to assist you with legal advice for criminal appeals.
The Cleveland Homeless Legal Assistance Program (“CHLAP”) is a partnership between Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association. The goal of this organization is to assist with civil law matters for those individuals who are currently, have been recently, or are in danger of becoming, homeless. CHLAP does not handle criminal matters, but does commonly assist with civil matters including family law, landlord/tenant, public benefits, and more. CHLAP offer intake sessions at various sites in Cleveland and also sponsors a monthly self-help divorce clinic, designed to empower individuals to assume their own representation.
The ACLU only takes approximately 30 cases per year and they are limited to those involving violation of constitutional rights by the government. They generally do not take on cases involving landlord/tenant disputes, divorce, employment, etc. Still, if you need legal assistance with a civil liberties matter, you may contact them by mail or online with a description of your issue. They will contact you only if they can assist. However, they caution that you not wait to talk to another attorney in the meantime so as to be sure not to miss any important deadlines.
Established in 1975, the mission of Housing Advocates, Inc. is “the promotion of equal housing opportunities, tenant rights and affordable housing.” Among other programs, they operate a Fair Housing Law Clinic in conjunction with the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, as well as a free housing counseling program for homeowners who are or are in danger of becoming delinquent on their mortgages (“the Save Our Homes From Foreclosure (“SOHF”) program. Hotline: 216-370-2283).