Civil Legal Aid


 Every Day in Washington State …

  • Working people lose their jobs
  • Children are removed from their families
  • Families are being evicted or having their homes foreclosed upon
  • Women and children are abused and forced to seek protection
  • Frail elderly homeowners are victimized by predatory lending scams
  • Disabled children are denied the help they need to perform well in school
  • Victims of crime experience a range of civil legal problems due to their victimization
  • People with physical, mental, or developmental disabilities cannot access needed governmental services and necessary support
  • Families and children who are unsheltered cannot access needed services and support
  • Low-income people cannot access critically needed health and mental health care services

… Justice is Wanting

  • Seventy percent of all low income households experience at least one important civil legal problem each year.  Those who experience one civil legal problem on average experience nearly nine often interrelated legal problems.  Nearly three-quarters do not get the legal help they need to solve their problems.
  • Many civil legal problems involve fundamental issues such as personal and family safety, housing, shelter and security, access to governmental services and the like.  Women and children and people of color experience more civil legal needs than the general low-income population.  Domestic violence and sexual assault survivors have the highest number of needs of any segment of the low income population.

What is Civil Legal Aid?

“Civil Legal Aid” refers to legal and law related services designed to help low income individuals, families and communities solve civil (non-criminal) legal problems that they experience.  Civil Legal Aid helps low income people defend and assert important legal rights that often involve the most fundamental aspects of life – personal and family safety, protection of family integrity, the rights of children and youth, home ownership and shelter protection, economic security, health care and shelter.  Civil legal aid ensures effective voice for those most at risk of harm in the civil justice system and who are least able to access that help due to a range of social, economic, racial, ability-based, age, educational, linguistic, and other barriers.

Who Provides General Legal Aid Services in Washington State?

Throughout Washington State non-profit organizations provide general civil legal aid services to low income people.  These programs are organized under the banner “Alliance for Equal Justice.”  The Alliance includes statewide legal aid programs, specialty legal aid programs and volunteer legal aid programs.

Because the funding for general civil legal aid falls far short of that needed to provide services to everyone, civil legal aid programs prioritize the types of cases that they can handle.  The overall goal is to provide legal help to those most in need of legal help and on matters that affect fundamental interests such as personal and family safety, economic security, and access to and preservation of housing, essential governmental benefits and health care.

The Office of Civil Legal Aid operates multiple programs through which low-income people can access civil legal assistance.  The largest is the general civil legal aid program.  OCLA contracts with the Northwest Justice Project (NJP), a statewide non-profit provider of civil legal aid services.  NJP uses funds made available from OCLA to:

  • Operate a statewide toll-free legal advice, education and referral system called CLEAR.  CLEAR attorneys and paralegals receive calls, screen for eligibility, diagnose legal problems, and provide self-help legal information and advice.  In some cases CLEAR attorneys and paralegals are able to solve a client’s legal problem with limited assistance.  In cases that are more difficult or require ongoing representation, clients are referred to local legal aid providers.
  • Host a statewide self-help resources center called WashingtonLawHelp.  Visitors to can find hundreds of up to date pamphlets and materials on many issues that affect low income people.  Many self-help resources are available in languages other than English, including Arabic, Cambodian, Chinese, Spanish, Hmong, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Laotian, Russian, Somali and also hosts statewide Washington Forms OnLine which allows visitors to answer interview questions that will create completed forms and instructions that are ready for use.
  • Many self-help resources are available in languages other than English, including Arabic, Cambodian, Chinese, Spanish, Hmong, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Laotian, Russian, Somali and Vietnamese.
  • Operate  local and regional legal aid offices throughout Washington State.  Legal staff in these offices provide legal aid to eligible low-income residents on a wide range of civil legal problems.
  • Help support the operations of sixteen local volunteer attorney programs (VLP’s).  Attorneys working with these programs volunteer their time to provide legal advice, brief service and representation to eligible low income clients at no charge.
  • Help support the operations of 4 providers of specialized legal aid services in various parts of the state.

Who is Eligible for General Civil Legal Aid Services?

State-funded civil legal aid services are available to all low-income citizens in Washington State.  Certain non-citizens who are lawfully present in the United States may be eligible for state-funded civil legal aid services.

Persons with incomes at or below 125% of the federal poverty level are eligible for state-funded civil legal aid services.  In certain cases, persons with incomes up to 200% of the poverty level may be eligible for state-funded legal aid services.  2020 annual income levels by household size are listed below.

Other Programs

Other programs underwritten by OCLA include:

  • Programs to ensure appointed counsel for children and youth in dependency and termination cases (see Children’s Representation page)
  • A program to provide court-appointed counsel for indigent tenants in eviction cases (see Eviction Defense page)
  • A general program to provide assistance for tenants threatened with eviction (see Eviction Defense page)
  • A program to provide civil relief for individuals affected by the State v. Blake decision declaring the state’s simple possession law unconstitutional
  • A reentry legal aid program for individuals returning to civil society from incarceration
  • A program to provide civil legal assistance to victims of crime
  • A program to provide civil legal assistance to survivors of domestic violence
  • A program to provide information and legal advice to kinship caregivers

For more information about any of these programs, contact