The Ohio Access to Justice Foundation
Civil legal aid refers to the legal services provided at no cost to low-income Ohioans by hundreds of attorneys and paralegals throughout Ohio. These professionals work through local and regional legal aids, volunteer pro bono programs, and reduced-fee contracted services to help thousands of people gain access to legal representation. Civil legal aid helps Ohioans struggling to make ends meet resolve urgent, noncriminal legal problems. For example, a local legal aid can help protect elderly people from unlawful evictions, women and children from violence in their homes, and can help veterans receive the benefits they have earned and need.
A legal aid society (commonly known as a “legal aid”) is a nonprofit law firm that serves a designated area of Ohio. There are eight legal aids that, together, serve every county in Ohio, plus one statewide legal aid dedicated to serving seniors. Like any law firm, each legal aid has attorneys and support staff. Legal aid attorneys are trained in a wide range of issues facing those living in poverty and may also specialize in a particular area of the law, such as housing or domestic violence.
In addition to traditional one-on-one representation, many legal aids have developed online resources to provide clients with advice, brief services, or to refer clients to another agency better suited to help a client with his or her problem. The legal aid system also includes a hotline that provides free legal information, advice and referral for all residents of Ohio age 60 and over.
The primary sources of funding for civil legal aid in Ohio come from the Ohio Legal Aid Fund. The Ohio Access to Justice Foundation administers this fund, which consists of interest earned on IOLTA (Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts) and IOTA (Interest on Trust Accounts), and from a filing fee surcharge on civil cases filed in municipal, county and common pleas courts. Most legal aids also receive grants from the federal Legal Services Corporation, which is funded by an appropriation from Congress. Legal aids also receive funds from other sources such as individual donors, foundations, businesses, United Way allocations, and state and local bar associations. Visit the Ohio Access to Justice Foundation website (www.ohiojusticefoundation.org) to learn more about IOLTA/IOTA, filing fees, and the history of funding legal aid in Ohio.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 14.9 percent of Ohioans were living at or below the poverty level in 2017, which, for a family of four, meant a household income of $24,600 or less. The Census Bureau estimates that about 776,000 Ohioans live in deep poverty, defined as 50 percent of the poverty level or below. These individuals and families lack the resources to pay for a lawyer and, at the same time, are more likely to need the advice and assistance of a lawyer with problems that have been intensified by living in poverty, such as housing security, health care, food stamps or disability assistance, protection from domestic violence, and employment and income stability. Civil legal aid is often the only place where they can turn for help.
Civil legal aid is available to those who qualify in every Ohio county. You may contact your closest legal aid office by calling 1-866-LAW-OHIO (1-866-529-6446) or by visiting www.ohiolegalhelp.org.
The Ohio Access to Justice Foundation improves fairness and access to justice for all Ohioans. Established in 1994 as the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation, the Foundation funds Ohio’s legal aids through the IOLTA/IOTA program, a civil filing fee surcharge, and donations. Legal aid helps families, children, veterans, seniors, and other Ohioans struggling to make ends meet get back on their feet and on the road to self-sufficiency. Through the Foundation’s work, Ohioans have access to legal help, advice, and representation, which ensures fairness for all in the justice system.