Legal aid services are for people who need legal assistance or representation but are unable to access it due to prohibitive costs. These services are primarily focused on civil legal matters because criminal prosecution in Georgia is handled by county district attorney’s offices with criminal defense for the indigent provided free of charge by the local public defender’s office. Black Atlantans are more likely to be low-income and therefore unable to afford legal representation when they need it.

A 2022 report from the Legal Services Corporation found that low-income Americans don’t get any or enough legal help for 92% of their substantial civil legal problems. 

Most legal aid programs only accept clients whose household income is at or below their low-income threshold, which is usually between 150% and 200% of the federal poverty line. That is a yearly income of $14,580 for an individual or $30,000 for a family of four.

According to the Atlanta Regional Commission approximately 16% of Black residents in the 11 metro Atlanta counties live in poverty. However, there are a number of organizations in the metro Atlanta area that provide legal aid at little to no cost.

Atlanta Legal Aid Society

With five offices across the metro area, the Atlanta Legal Aid Society serves thousands of low-income clients each year. To qualify for legal services, your household income cannot exceed 150% of the federal poverty rate.

They provide help on a number of legal issues, especially in the critical area of housing, including foreclosure, access to subsidized housing and predatory mortgage lenders. Lawyers also work on family law issues with domestic violence victims, child support cases and custody and visitation agreements. 

Health and disability lawyers also work on cases for people diagnosed with cancer, ALS or HIV/AIDS so they can access federal benefits, and advocate for disabled people living in institutions so they can return to their communities with access to the necessary resources.

The Senior Citizens Law Project provides support for any Atlantan’s over the age of 60 on issues like access to health care benefits, home preservation, rights for long-term care facility residents and financial exploitation.

Contact the office in the metro Atlanta county where you live:

Fulton: 404-524-5811

DeKalb: 404-377-0701

Clayton: 404-669-0233

Cobb: 770-528-2565

Gwinnett: 678-376-4545

Georgia Senior Legal Aid: 404-389-9992

Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation

One of Atlanta’s largest providers of free legal services, AVLF is limited to Fulton and Clayton counties. Only residents whose household income is at or below 200% of the federal poverty level can qualify for legal assistance.

The bulk of their services are for housing or employment issues, including unpaid wages and failure to pay minimum wage, or overtime pay. Their housing work includes legal and illegal evictions, poor living conditions, unreturned security deposits, rodent and insect infestations and failure to repair damage caused by mold, flooding and leaks.

AVLF’s Safe Families Office provides legal assistance to get a temporary protective order for any individual experiencing domestic violence or intimate partner abuse in Fulton County only. They will also provide divorce assistance for anyone who has gotten legal help through the Safe Families office.

Contact AVLF:

(404) 521-0790

Atlanta Bar Association

The Atlanta Bar Association’s Modest Means program is for people who do not qualify for free legal aid but are still not able to afford an attorney. To qualify, your household income cannot exceed 300% of the federal poverty rate.

In addition to the $25 application fee, the program will connect you with a private attorney who will charge no more than a $600 retainer or $75 per hour.

Modest Means is open to residents in Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, Cobb, Gwinnett, Douglas, Henry, Rockdale, Fayette, Cherokee, Paulding and Forsyth counties.

The program accepts all legal requests except family law cases.

Online Legal Information

Georgia Legal Aid is a joint venture between Atlanta Legal Aid Society and Georgia Legal Service Program.

The website includes a self-help center where residents can look up legal information about any legal issue they may have. It also provides information on navigating the court system and constitutional rights.

Madeline Thigpen is Capital B Atlanta's criminal justice reporter.