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Local Public Service Agencies

Northwestern Legal Services/Legal Aid

1001 State Street, Suite 700 Erie, PA 16501
New Client Line (814) 452-6957 or (800) 665-6957

"Northwestern Legal Services assists low-income individuals and families by guiding them through the legal system using advocacy and education to obtain justice with the goal of improving their quality of life and strengthening our community."

Northwestern Legal Services (NWLS) is a private non-profit corporation dedicated to providing free legal representation to low-income people with civil legal problems. They provide service to eligible clients throughout ten counties in northwestern Pennsylvania. Client eligibility is based on the type of case involved and financial and asset Eligibility Guidelines established by the federal and state government. Services are provided in a wide range of matters including public benefits, family law, housing, health care, education, and employment.

NWLS has expanded client services by offering service delivery in a variety of ways. In addition to direct representation, they operate private attorney involvement programs, a telephone advice program, conduct Self-Help & Pro Se Clinics, and provide community education.

The Erie Office of NWLS houses their Central Intake Unit. To apply for services, clients in the ten county service area should call the Central Intake Unit. Client's eligibility will be screened over the phone and if found eligible, an application for services is completed and an appointment is scheduled. In some areas of law, telephone advice is also provided directly over the telephone.

For more information about the services offered by NWLS, visit their site at

Legal Aid Volunteer Attorneys (LAVA)

1001 State Street, Suite 1200 Erie, PA 16501
Central Intake Unit (814) 452-6957

The Legal Aid Volunteer Attorneys (LAVA) Program has been assisting Erie's low-income individuals since 1982. The program was begun in response to government funding cuts to Legal Service, the organization providing free civil legal services to low-income individuals.

The LAVA Program matches private attorneys with eligible individuals needing civil legal services. Each year these local attorneys generously donate their time by providing direct representation free of charge to Erie's low-income citizens. Low-income people needing an attorney in the criminal area should contact the Public Defender's Office at 814/451-6322.

Since it began in 1982, LAVA has provided free legal assistance to approximately 7,000 local individuals and families. Just since 1996, the Program has handled 1,748 cases. In 2005 alone, over 140 new cases were referred to private attorneys who gave over 1,000 hours of their time.

Administration and screening for LAVA eligibility are handled by Northwestern Legal Services. Potential clients must be eligible both financially and by the type of case.

To apply for help, call 814/452-6957, Monday - Friday, 9AM to 4PM.

Public Defender's Office Information

509 Sassafras Street, Erie, PA 16507
Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The Erie County Public Defender's Office provides representation to very low income adults accused of breaking the law, accused of violating probation or parole, and when an attempt is being made to involuntarily confine an individual due to mental illness.

The Public Defender's Office also represents juveniles and young children involved in the juvenile justice system and/or "Office of Children and Youth" proceedings.

Application for Public Defender services must be made in person at 509 Sassafras Street. Your eligibility for services will be based on your assets and income. If you qualify according to the eligibility guidelines, you will be provided an attorney free of charge.

If an individual is in jail, the Public Defender's investigator regularly visits the Erie County Prison and takes applications from persons who are incarcerated.

The Public Defender's Office does not provide representation in cases involving only summary offenses or cases involving traffic offenses. The exception is in situations where a Magisterial District Judge indicates that a penalty of incarceration is likely if a conviction results.

Consumer Credit Counseling Service

Are you:

  • Juggling bills from month to month?
  • Writing post-dated checks?
  • Skipping payments?
  • Screening calls on an answering machine to avoid creditors?
  • Not sleeping at night because of financial stress?
  • Working part-time to pay off your credit card or medical bills?

If you are having trouble paying bills or are experiencing other financial difficulties, there is FREE help at Consumer Credit Counseling Service.

Look at their website at or call 1-888-511-2227.

Bureau of Consumer Protection Information

1001 State Street, Suite 1009
Erie, PA 16501
(814) 871-4371

The Bureau of Consumer Protection is a branch of the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office. It handles most types of general consumer complaints and specific complaints involving Health Care, Do Not Call List, SPAM, Charities, Civil Rights, Debt Collection, Insurance Fraud and Medicaid Fraud.

You may obtain a complaint form by stopping at the Erie regional office, by calling the Erie Office at 814/871-4371 or 800/441-2555, or via the Attorney General website at under "Complaints."

When the Bureau receives a consumer complaint, it will generally attempt mediation by sending a copy of the complaint to the business involved in an attempt to reach a resolution of the dispute. The Bureau does not act as a judge in these disputes or order any payment or action. In the majority of cases received by the Bureau, Consumer Protection Agents serve as mediators who work to resolve disputes using the mail, telephone and/or personal contacts.

In general, the Bureau is only authorized to file formal legal action where it has reason to believe that a business is engaged in illegal practices and it is in the public interest to do so. "The public interest" may include a pattern or practice of fraud, an important question of law, a significant number of consumer victims, a significant amount of money at risk or a variety of other matters.

In keeping with its mandate to educate consumers, the Bureau makes available agents and attorneys to conduct public demonstrations and programs and provides a variety of consumer education brochures and materials to schools, consumer groups, and other interested organizations.

For more information on programs offered and complaint procedures, go to

If you need to consult with an attorney or would like more information on legal action for a consumer complaint, please contact the Erie County Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service.