Justice for all low-income people in Washington

Main Content

Get Help


What is a civil legal problem?

A civil legal problem refers to a problem or a dispute with an individual, a company or a government program or office that affects a person’s property, benefits, or legal rights or obligations. Civil legal problems do not include criminal charges or criminal prosecution for illegal activity.

What kinds of civil legal problems does NJP handle?

NJP generally handles civil legal problems facing low income people due to lack of income, problems with education, employment or loss of employment, disabilities, discrimination, consumer abuse or illegal business practices, physical or family safety, as well as barriers low income people face when applying for government services, seeking help, or accessing the courts or other means of resolving disputes or addressing their needs. NJP also helps low income groups address problems of concern to the group.

These problems often occur in situations involving domestic violence, eviction or other loss of housing, consumer protection, job conditions or lost wages, educational barriers, lack of access to or loss of government benefits or health care, debt collection, transportation needs, language or cultural barriers to accessing social services or justice systems, as well as the economic development needs of low income communities and organizations serving them.

How does NJP assist clients with civil legal problems?

NJP is a statewide not for profit law firm that employs more than 100 lawyers and paralegals to provide civil legal assistance and representation in locations across Washington. NJP services are free for eligible individuals. Persons seeking legal help are asked to contact us, for case screening and appropriate referral to NJP local offices or other civil legal aid providers in their community. In certain situations, local offices can accept direct referrals from other service providers.  

NJP has several specialized units or programs that serve distinct or particularly vulnerable populations, including farm workers, Native Americans, Western State Hospital patients, survivors of domestic violence and persons over 60 years of age. NJP also maintains a free legal resource web site – WashingtonLawHelp.org – with an extensive library of legal information, videos, forms and instructions.

NJP staff lawyers are not engaged in the “private” practice of law, but work solely for NJP eligible clients at no cost. NJP also has contracts with a limited number of private attorneys around the state who have agreed to accept cases for eligible clients if NJP lawyers in a certain area are not able to handle the case. These lawyers are paid by NJP (not the client) at a highly reduced rate from what they would normally charge for their services.

What other work does NJP do?

In addition to individual case work, NJP helps community groups and non-profit organizations working with low income families and individuals understand their legal rights and obligations through community education presentations, trainings and consultation and presentations on legal problems community groups are addressing for themselves, their members or client constituencies. For example, NJP has helped public housing and mobile home park resident associations solve disputes with housing authorities and other landlords; worked with disabilities support groups to address discrimination or obtain reasonable accommodations; initiated collaborations with court-based entities and client groups to address language access needs for limited-English speakers; helped create community-based food banks; and, among other things, works with local partners to identify financial security and planning options for low income persons.

Are NJP services free?

There is no charge for clients who are financially eligible for NJP services. NJP lawyers are paid by NJP with funds primarily provided by the federal government through the national Legal Services Corporation and by the state legislature through the Office of Civil Legal Aid. NJP also receives limited private funds and support from the Legal Foundation of Washington and the Campaign for Equal Justice.

In some cases, clients may be asked to help pay for some of the costs that can come up in handling a court case (but not the costs of the lawyer). However, NJP will discuss these costs with a client beforehand.

Can NJP take every client that asks for help?

No. In Washington, as in most states, civil legal aid programs are able to help less than half the number of people who need help. In most cases, NJP is able to provide limited advice and brief services, which can often solve the problem or assist the person in representing themselves. NJP is only able to represent clients in court and administrative proceedings or in complex cases in limited situations based on case service priorities established by NJP’s Board of Directors. Even for cases that come within the case service priorities, NJP is not able to represent every eligible person who needs help.  For eligible persons we are unable to assist, NJP will help to identify the scope of their legal issues, provide advice, legal educational and self-help information and assistance, and try to refer for additional assistance as appropriate.

What are NJP's case service priorities?

NJP’s Board of Directors adopts overall general case service priorities for the program. Priorities will vary among NJP field offices and among the specialized units/programs depending on specific funding, location or other office staffing considerations. Even if a case meets a service priority, due to limited resources, NJP may not be able to provide representation on the matter.

In general, priority cases involve complex legal problems or issues that generally will not be handled by private attorneys such as:

  • disputed custody cases involving domestic violence or children at risk of harm
  • subsidized or public housing evictions and fair housing or discrimination
  • home mortgage foreclosure or lending abuses
  • access to government subsistence benefits such as TANF, SSI, veteran’s benefits and other income assistance programs
  • access to medical care or benefits such as Medicaid, Basic Health, Medicare Part D, home health or other similar benefits
  • education rights such as special education, other discrimination, transitional language assistance, or disciplinary proceedings
  • employment issues related to lost wages, discrimination or workplace health and safety conditions
  • consumer issues related to debt collection abuse, medical debt, fraud, predatory lending or other similar issues 
  • access to courts and general civil rights, race equity or other systemic discrimination that impairs access to needed benefits and services. 

NJP will also accept cases involving other issues, such as transportation, discrimination in public accommodations or matters that otherwise address systemic problems experienced by low-income individuals or communities. NJP operates with very limited resources and must select among priority requests for assistance based on specific case circumstances, facts, and strength of cases, and may not legally pursue cases that lack legal or factual merit. NJP is unable to accept cases in which a private attorney could obtain a fee such as a personal injury claim.