Northwestern Legal Services (NWLS) provides free legal aid in civil cases to eligible, low-income people throughout 10 counties in northwestern Pennsylvania. The organization serves Erie, Crawford, Mercer, Venango, Warren, Forest, McKean, Elk, Cameron and Potter Counties, with staffed offices in Erie, Farrell, Meadville, Franklin, Warren and Bradford Pennsylvania.
In order to qualify for free legal aid, low-income individuals and families must meet income and asset eligibility guidelines. Household income must fall at or below certain limits established each year by the federal government, and available assets may also be considered in determining eligibility. Current guidelines are available online at the NWLS website at www.nwls.org/guidelines.htm.
Free legal aid is offered in certain types of civil cases for people who qualify for these services. NWLS handles cases such as welfare benefits, unemployment compensation, Supplemental Security Income, landlord/tenant problems, bankruptcy, mortgage foreclosure, domestic violence, defense of child custody cases, education problems and some consumer issues. For a full list of the cases we handle visit www.nwls.org/CaseCriteria.htm.
NWLS does not represent clients with criminal complaints, and the organization is prohibited by law from handling certain types of civil concerns such as immigration issues, and "plaintiff" cases in which an attorney could receive a fee at the successful conclusion of the case, such as a personal injury lawsuit.
In addition to direct representation and counsel offered to low-income clients who qualify, NWLS provides instructional clinics to people who want to file their own petitions to change child custody arrangements, and also for people who want to represent themselves in uncontested divorces where there are no property issues involved that must be decided by the court.
All applicants for civil legal aid at NWLS apply for services via the telephone. When you call the NWLS central intake unit, a screener will interview you to determine if you meet the income and asset guidelines, and if your legal problem is a type of civil case that NWLS handles for eligible clients. If you meet the requirements for legal aid, you will be scheduled to meet with a law worker at an office nearest you. In some civil cases such as landlord/tenant disputes, you may be asked to speak with a NWLS staff attorney on the phone to discuss your problem.
In some circumstances, NWLS is able to refer your civil case to a private attorney who will agree to represent you free-of-charge. Eligibility for pro bono services from a private attorney is also determined by a telephone call to the NWLS central intake unit.
To see if you qualify for legal aid, call NWLS in Erie at 452-6957, or outside Erie toll-free at 1-800-665-6957, Monday through Friday, 9 AM to 4 PM. You can also go the to the NWLS website at www.nwls.org for more information. 3/11
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