Is there help out there?
One of the biggest financial burdens you will carry when your husband is in prison is legal fees. If you are already struggling financially, it is even more stressful to try to come up with the funds to pay an attorney to help you. The good news is that there are a lot of free legal services available. You just need to know how to find them.
There is no getting around the fact that you will need an attorney at some point. Maybe you are fighting his conviction, or just wanting to file an appeal. It might be that he needs help with Child Support Enforcement, or help maintaining his parental rights. I promise you, you will need to find a lawyer during this journey.
You're not alone
If you are like most wives of prisoners, you are barely making it on your own financially on one income. Thus paying for legal fees is just not even an option. So, you will either need to find a way to earn extra money, ask others for help, or find a lawyer who will not charge you for their services.
Something you may not know is that all attorneys are strongly encouraged to provide at least 50 hours of free services every year by the American Bar Association (ABA).
Are there free lawyer services?
Here is the information directly from the ABA website:
Every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay. A lawyer should aspire to render at least (50) hours of pro bono publico legal services per year. In fulfilling this responsibility, the lawyer should:
(a) provide a substantial majority of the (50) hours of legal services without fee or expectation of fee to:
(1) persons of limited means or
(2) charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters which are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means; and
(b) provide any additional services through:
(1) delivery of legal services at no fee or substantially reduced fee to individuals, groups or organizations seeking to secure or protect civil rights, civil liberties or public rights, or charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters in furtherance of their organizational purposes, where the payment of standard legal fees would significantly deplete the organization’s economic resources or would be otherwise inappropriate;
(2) delivery of legal services at a substantially reduced fee to persons of limited means; or
(3) participation in activities for improving the law, the legal system or the legal profession.
Loneliness is one of the hardest parts of having a husband who is in prison. Weekdays go by quickly because we are focused and busy working. But Friday night comes, and the pain of being alone settles on us. I heard a quote that sums up what it is like to be married to someone who is in prison..
How to find a pro bono lawyer
So, now that we have established that free services are actually out there, you need to know HOW to find a pro bono lawyer. Finding an attorney who will provide services for free will take some time and effort—but it can be done. While Ron was in prison, we were blessed to have 3 different attorneys who worked on Ron’s case at no charge to us. Two of them were public defenders, and one was a pro bono attorney who helped us fight his conviction for 10 years!
So, here is the answer to “HOW to find a pro bono lawyer”:
- Gather all of the documents you think you might need for the issue you need legal assistance with. This includes any warrants, statements, transcripts, lists of witnesses (if applicable), legal notices, income verification, anything related to the legal issue.
- Find your local free legal services agency (ABLE, or Free legal clinics) and make an appointment to speak to someone there. Present your case. If they can help—GREAT! Your search is over. If they cannot help you, keep going.
- Contact your Public Defender’s office. Make an appointment and present your need for assistance. If they cannot help you, ask them if they know anyone who can help and keep going.
- Find out if there is a law school near you. Reach out to the law school and find out who you need to talk to for assistance with a legal matter and repeat the process of meeting, asking for help, and then asking for a referral if they cannot help you. Keep going if this doesn’t work.
- Start calling every attorney in your area and setting up an appointment to meet with them for a free consultation. Be sure you tell the scheduler you need a free consultation.
- At the meeting, after you present your need for assistance, ask for donated time. If they say no, ask them if they will help you find someone who can assist you. Repeat this process until you find help.
- Be persistent.
Finding a pro bono attorney can be discouraging when people refuse your request for help. But do not give up until you have exhausted all the steps above. Chances are, you will find someone who is willing and able to help. If, however, you cannot find someone who can help you, encourage your husband to write letters requesting legal assistance to all of the organizations/people he can.
Even if you follow all of these steps, I cannot guarantee that you will get free legal assistance. However, if you don’t ask for help, I can guarantee you won’t get any.
I am rooting for you!