Low-income residents will now be able to get free legal support to fight cases filed against them in small claims court by third-party debt collectors or debt buyers thanks to a grant awarded to Legal Action of Wisconsin.
The goal of Legal Action’s Lawyer-For-A-Day program is to help consumers by reducing judgments against debtors who lack representation.
The Legal Services Corporation, or LSC, announced the $368,277 Pro Bono Innovation Fund grant on Aug. 17.
Legal Action is working to develop this project in the Milwaukee County Civil Court, where it also has a Lawyer-For-A-Day project that addresses evictions.
Smalls claims courts typically deal with disputes below $5,000 for individuals suing but more for corporations.
J.J. Moore, the director of pro bono for Legal Action, said no firm date has been set on when the new program will begin. Officials hope to start accepting people into the program as soon as possible.
“We just want to provide a voice for our consumers,” Moore said. “It can overwhelm consumers when they find out they need to go to court. We just want to even the playing field.”
Legal Action is one of 15 legal aid organizations receiving a grant. In total, the LSC has awarded $4.75 million to support the growth of pro bono legal services for low-income Americans.
A report recently released by the LSC found that 74% of low-income households faced at least one civil legal challenge last year.
“Alarmingly, low-income Americans received no or insufficient legal help for 92% of their substantial civil legal problems,” LSC officials said in a statement announcing the grant.