Frequently Asked Questions
What does Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida (CLSMF) do?
CLSMF helps low-income people resolve urgent, non-criminal legal problems that make a difference in their everyday lives, such as protecting the elderly from unlawful evictions, making sure women and children are protected from violence in their homes, and helping veterans receive financial benefits they have earned and need.
Our lawyers, paralegals and advocates provide free legal services helping more than 17,500 people in Central Florida each year. We provide legal services and advice on a variety of issues including:
- Children and Education
- Domestic Violence
- Elder Advocacy
- Family Law
- Public Benefits
- Tax Controversy Assistance, and
- Veterans Services
Who is Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida?
Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida (CLSMF) is the primary provider of free legal aid for low to moderate income residents in Central Florida. Since 1966, we have been providing legal assistance and advocacy to help the people of Central Florida obtain the basic necessities of life: food, shelter, health care, safety and education.
CLSMF has approximately 90 lawyers, advocates and support staff who work in 8 offices serving 12 counties in Central Florida: Brevard, Citrus, Flagler, Hernando, Lake, Marion, Orange, Osceola, Putnam, Seminole, Sumter and Volusia.
What is Civil Legal Aid?
Civil legal aid is free legal assistance to low-income people who have civil legal problems. Civil legal aid is a combination of services and resources that helps all Americans of all backgrounds-including those who face the toughest legal challenges: children, veterans, seniors, ill or disabled people, and victims of domestic violence-to effectively navigate the justice system.
Civil legal aid connects Americans with a range of services- including legal assistance and representation, free legal clinics, court-based services, pro bono assistance, and access to web-based information and forms – that help guide them through complicated legal proceedings. In doing so, civil legal aid helps Americans protect their livelihoods, their health, and their families.
When we say the Pledge of the Allegiance we close with “justice for all.” We need civil legal aid to ensure that the principle our founding fathers envisioned remains alive: justice for all, not the few who can afford it.
Who is served by Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida?
- Clients of CLSMF represent the diversity that is Florida-encompassing all races, ethnic groups and ages, ranging from veterans and family farmers to the urban low-wage workers and victims of natural disasters.
- More than two-thirds of civil legal aid clients are women, and most of them mothers. Because of this, the legal problems of people living poverty can have serious implications for children.
- The low to moderate income communities who lack the means to access the courts to resolve their legal troubles.
- To obtain free assistance, you must be eligible for services by meeting guidelines based primarily on income, assets, and household size. Generally, you will be eligible if your income does not exceed 125% of the Federal Poverty Income Guidelines. In some counties and in some cases, domestic violence and elderly clients may not be subject to the income guidelines. There are also different guidelines for residents of certain counties seeking assistance with mortgage foreclosure.
- To receive legal services from CLSMF, the issue that you would like addressed by an attorney must have occurred in one of the following counties: Brevard, Citrus, Flagler, Hernando, Lake, Marion, Orange, Osceola, Putnam, Seminole, Sumter or Volusia.
Why is there a need for Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida?
- About 50 million Americans are still living below the poverty level, and another 10 million have incomes that are less than 25 percent higher than that level. As a result, roughly one in five U.S. citizens is eligible for legal aid.
- Nearly 12% of Central Florida’s population are veterans, nearly 19% of the population are seniors over 65, 23% of the population are below the poverty level, and over 28,000 cases of domestic violence have been reported this year, and each of these populations are left vulnerable to issues that can only be addressed through the legal system.
- The need for legal aid among the poor is overwhelming. According to a study by the American Bar Association, at least 40 percent of low and moderate-income households experience a legal problem each year.
- Most low and moderate-income people feel shut out from the legal systems. They do not turn to the courts for solutions because they believe the system will not help them.
- Civil legal aid services, like CLSMF, ensure justice for all Central Floridians, regardless of their income. Many people would otherwise not be able to afford access to the courts to resolve their legal troubles.
How is Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida funded?
We are a community-based organization funded in a variety of ways. We receive grants from the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). The LSC is a private, non-profit organization established by Congress to ensure equal access to justice under the law by providing legal assistance in civil (non-criminal) matters to low-income individuals.
CLSMF is also funded by other resources, including individual donors, law firms, foundations, United Way contributions, and The Florida Bar Foundation.
The primary sources of funding for CLSMF are the Legal Services Corporation, The Florida Bar Foundation, United Way of Marion County, United Way of Volusia-Flagler Counties, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Internal Revenue Service, individual donors, law firms, businesses and state and local governments.
Because you are funded by the government and other sources, don’t you have all the lawyers you need?
Not nearly. The United States has more attorneys per capita than any other country. One lawyer for every 525 people. In contrast, there is only one lawyer for every 7,000 low income persons. These statistics define the justice gap in America, and CLSMF works to serve those in need.
Do Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida attorneys get paid if they win (or lose)?
No. CLSMF’s high-caliber staff attorneys chose to serve their local community through legal aid. They themselves do not receive any attorney fees for the work they do to ensure equal access to justice for all.
What is Pro Bono and how do attorneys participate in the Pro Bono program with CLSMF?
In the legal profession, the term “pro bono” refers to legal services performed free of charge for the public good.
CLSMF has a corps of volunteer lawyers who provide Pro Bono work and become part of a team of experienced CLSMF staff attorneys, paralegals and advocates who work to keep Central Floridians in their homes, put food on their tables, get the medical care that they need and ensure that they live with dignity and respect.
What does Pro Se mean?
Pro Se means that an individual is representing themselves in a legal proceeding.
What is CLSMF’s Pro Se Project?
CLSMF has created interactive forms that you can use to create certain court filings. The forms are available for individuals to download and use themselves in legal proceedings.
The use of free interactive forms in this manner is a first in Florida and was made possible by a grant from the Legal Services Corporation. The program also receives support from Florida Legal Services, the website administrator for www.FloridaLawHelp.org.
What’s the difference between civil and criminal legal services?
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 rights, protection, or services. CLSMF represents those in need of civil case support.
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. CLSMF does not provide services for criminal cases.