Frequently Asked Questions

Listed below are answers to questions about the Ohio State Legal Services Association, the Ohio Legal Aid Delivery System, and this web site. If you have a question not answered below, please Contact Us.

  1. Who is OSLSA?
  2. What are pro bono and pro se organizations?
  3. What is the difference between civil and criminal legal services?
  4. What kind of cases do legal services programs handle?
  5. What is the difference between a legal services program and a legal aid program? How are they different from a public defender program?
  6. What are the eligibility requirements for legal services programs in Ohio?
  7. How can I find out if I need a lawyer?
  8. How do I find a lawyer?
  9. What if a legal services program will not help me?
  10. When should I seek legal advice?
  11. Why can't I ask legal questions through this web site?
  12. How do I find out more about legal services programs in Ohio?
  13. How do I send suggestions for adding items to this web site?


Detailed Questions and Answers:

Q:

Who is OSLSA?

:

OSLSA is a nonprofit, publicly funded, legal services program with nine offices that provide civil representation to low-income Ohioans in 30 Ohio counties. Federal law defines low income for our eligibility as 125% of the Federal Poverty Level.

OSLSA acts as general counsel to Ohio's poor. It is committed to searching out the patterns, causes and solutions of the repetitive and fundamental legal problems facing our client community, and seeking legal recourse necessary to redress the grievances of our clients.

Different legal services programs serve the various regions in Ohio. You can find the legal services program that serves your county by going to the Find Ohio Legal Help page.


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Q:

What are pro bono and pro se organizations?

A:

The Find Ohio Legal Help page has listings for legal services programs, pro bono programs and pro se clinics. Pro bono organizations pair people with lawyers who volunteer their services for free. Pro se organizations/clinics help people represent themselves. This is sometimes also called "self-help." Many legal services programs operate pro bono and/or pro se programs within the counties they serve.


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Q:

What's the difference between civil and criminal legal services?

A:

Civil cases are where people have a disagreement with other people or businesses, or where people think the government is doing something wrong. Civil cases usually involve disputes about money, services or rights. Civil cases include landlord/tenant, used car issues, divorce and custody, domestic violence, unemployment compensation and public benefits (welfare, Medicaid, Medicare, food stamps).

Criminal cases are where the government charges a person with a crime, such as speeding, robbery, trespass, shoplifting, assault, murder, etc. Criminal cases may carry the risk of jail or a prison sentence. Public defenders represent low-income people on criminal cases. To find the public defender office for your county, go to the Office of the Ohio Public Defender website.


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Q:

What kind of cases do legal services programs handle?

A:

Each legal services program sets its own priorities, meaning that each program determines how it can best serve clients with the limited funding it has. Each legal services program in Ohio has a set of priorities which determine which type of cases they can handle.

Most legal services programs handle civil cases including family law, housing (evictions, lockouts, utility shutoffs), mobile homes, consumer (used cars, predatory lending, payday loans, bankruptcies), public benefits (Ohio Works First, food stamps, Medicaid, child care, etc.), access to health care, special education, unemployment compensation, and other areas. A few legal services programs handle criminal matters.


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Q:

What is the difference between a legal services program and a legal aid program? How are they different from a public defender program?

A:

In Ohio, there is no difference between legal aid programs and legal services programs. Legal aid and legal services programs, however, typically handle only civil cases, not criminal. Ohio Public Defender Programs provide free representation to those who cannot afford a lawyer for criminal cases. Not all counties have a public defender, however. Some counties must rely on court-appointed attorneys to help low income people charged with criminal offenses.


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Q:

What are the eligibility requirements for legal services programs in Ohio?

A:

Generally, potential clients must have income below 125% of the current official Federal Poverty Guideline. Additional income requirements vary among programs. Also, there may be exceptions to the income limit. The best way to find out if you are eligible for services is to call or visit your local legal services office and complete an application for services.


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Q:

How can I find out if I need a lawyer?

A:

Although this web site does not provide legal advice, it provides information about common legal problems facing low-income Ohioans and a directory of legal assistance organizations which may be able to help. Go to our Public Law Library for more information about common legal problems. Go to the Find Ohio Legal Help page and look for legal help in your county. Contact the organizations listed to see if they can help. If they cannot help, many organizations will provide some brief advice, referral or educational materials to assist you with your problem.



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Q:

How do I find a lawyer?

A:

The easist way to find a lawyer that provides low cost or free legal assistance is to look in our Find Ohio Legal Help page. Also, the Find Ohio Legal Help page includes listings for county bar association lawyer referral services, if available in a county. These services are typically not based on a person's income.


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Q:

What if a legal services program will not help me?

A:

Each program has a grievance procedure to request a review of the program's decision. Forms should be readily available from each program to clients requesting them.


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Q:

When should I seek legal advice?

A:

It is impossible to list all of the situations in which you should get legal advice, so we have listed some common situations when you should get legal advice. This list is not complete, and if you have a question you think a lawyer might be able to help you with, contact the programs that serve your county and ask if they can help. You should not hesitate to ask for advice. You can find programs in your county by checking the Find Ohio Legal Help page.

You should contact a lawyer if:

  • You have been sued, or threatened with a lawsuit;
  • You have a dispute over legal documents such as a loan agreement, lease or other contract;
  • You need a divorce or help with custody of your children;
  • You have been abused by a family member;
  • You disagree with someone about how much you owe them or how much they owe you;
  • You think a government agency is not treating you fairly or you are not getting the public benefits (welfare, Medicaid, food stamps, child care, SSI, etc.) you deserve;
  • More generally, you cannot settle a disagreement and you are at risk of losing money or property.
  • If you have been charged with a crime, you should contact your local public defender office, or if your county does not have a public defender, ask about a court-appointed attorney.

It is much better to ask for legal advice first and find out that you do not need it, than to not ask and find out later that you needed a lawyer.


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Q:

Why can't I ask legal questions through this web site?

A:

The host of this web site, Ohio State Legal Services Association, cannot give legal advice or answer individual legal questions through this web site. No one should give legal advice without interviewing a person to understand the whole situation facing the person.

OSLSA does not provide individual legal advice to clients. This web site acts as a "portal," which is a central place for information about the law and legal services. This web site does not give legal advice nor does it endorse any particular legal services or other legal assistance organization listed in our directory. Read our disclaimer for more information.


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Q:

How do I find out more about legal services programs in Ohio?

A:

Contact your local legal services or legal aid office. Also, you can get information from the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation and the Legal Services Corporation.


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Q:

How do I send suggestions for adding items to this web site?

A:

Complete our Feedback form. We welcome suggestions for improving this web site.

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