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What is Legal Aid?

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed May 2023

Legal Aid, also called Legal Services, is free legal help for people who do not have very much money.

legal aid icon courtesy of

Lawyers divide legal problems into 2 groups, criminal and civil.

If you have committed a crime or you are accused of committing a crime, your legal problem is a “criminal” one. Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) lawyers help people who have a criminal legal problem.

If your legal problem is not a criminal one it is a civil legal problem. Legal Services lawyers help people who have civil legal problems.

You can find legal services programs across the state.

What kinds of problems do legal services help with?

Legal services programs help people with non-criminal problems like:

Can I get it?

To get legal aid, you must have a low income. Also the legal problem you have must be one that your legal services program can help with. Legal services programs have very little funding. They can only work on a small number of legal problems at a time.

How low does my income have to be?

In general, your household income must be less than 200% percent of the federal poverty level. If you are 60 years old or older, are a victim of crime or survivor of domestic violence, or you are trying to get public benefits, your income may be higher. Sometimes, there are other special grants that can help people with certain problems, even if you have a higher income. 

How can I get civil legal aid?

Use the Legal Resource Finder to find legal aid in Massachusetts. You can find out if programs in your area are taking new clients. Massachusetts does not have enough lawyers for all the people who need legal help. We cannot help everyone, even if you have a low income.

What if legal services programs cannot help me?

You can get legal information and self-help tools from our statewide websites.

Start here with We have information in clear, easy to understand language. You can learn about many of the most common civil legal problems, in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Russian, Haitian Creole and Chinese. It can help you understand your situation and take steps to solve your problem.

You can also get information from This website is intended for legal services advocates, but you may find it helpful, especially if you are going to a hearing on your own.

You can also try to hire a lawyer. 

  • Some lawyers have lower rates for people with lower income. 
  • There are some kinds of cases where you only have to pay the lawyer if you win. 
  • Other times, the other side might have to pay your lawyer's fees if you win.
  • Sometimes, you can hire a lawyer for part of your case, and handle the other parts yourself.

These Lawyer Referral Services can give you contact information for a lawyer.

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

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