The legal system is set to assist people in two ways: 1) for criminal actions and 2) for civil or non-criminal actions. If you have been charged with a crime, you will need to find a criminal defense attorney. If you meet income eligibility, this criminal defense attorney will often be a public defender. If you have a civil issue, such as landlord/tenant disputes, divorce, employment disputes, health care disputes, or public benefits, you have a few choices.
Hire and Pay a Private Attorney
You may already know an attorney that you’d like to hire to represent you. If you do not; however, the South Carolina Bar offers the Lawyer Referral Service (LRS) to members of the public at no charge. You may call 1-800-868-2284 for a referral from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday (in Richland and Lexington counties, call 799-7100). An online referral service is also available 24/7.
The LRS offers referrals by the type of law and by the area or location in which you need a lawyer. Each participating lawyer agrees to charge no more than $50 for a 30-minute consultation. If the consultation extends past the 30 minutes or you hire the lawyer to represent you, the lawyer will charge you his or her normal fees. The lawyers do not take pro bono cases.
Contact SC Legal Services
South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) provides free civil legal services for low income residents of South Carolina. We do not do any criminal cases. If you want to apply for legal services, you should call the statewide South Carolina Legal Services Intake Office at 1-888-346-5592 (toll free) or 803-744-9430 (Columbia area). Spanish speaking applicants and hearing-impaired applicants, who have TTY capability, who wish to apply for legal services should also call the statewide telephone number at 1-888-346-5592. You can call the intake line from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Please note SCLS does not give legal advice over the phone.
If your primary language is something other than English and Spanish, call the closest SCLS office for an intake appointment.
What to Expect
- Eligibility for assistance through SCLS depends on your income and assets and the type of problem you have.
- Be prepared to answer questions about your income and the type of problem you need help with to determine if you are eligible for legal services. The LATIS staff may refer you to the appropriate SCLS office or to another agency for further assistance. When giving out a referral, SCLS tries to make the best referral possible. However, SCLS cannot guarantee that the agency or program you are referred to will be able to represent you.
- The income limit to be eligible for SCLS services is 125% of the Federal poverty level, which changes every year in April. There is also an asset (money in bank accounts, property, etc.) limit. Some grants allow SCLS to represent clients outside these financial limitations. The problem you have must be within the list of problems with which they can help.
- In order to make sure that there is no conflict of interest, SCLS staff will ask you for information about the person, business or agency with whom you are having a problem.
- You should not call the intake line on behalf of another person. If you are calling on behalf of another person, spouse, or family member, SCLS will determine whether they can speak with you or whether they need to speak directly with the person on whose behalf you are calling.
- SCLS does not charge a fee for attorney's services to eligible clients whose cases are accepted. Clients are usually asked to pay expenses such as filing fees, service fees, and charges for obtaining medical and other records from providers.
- Due to limited resources, SCLS is unable to accept everyone’s case. However if your case is accepted, there are different levels of assistance you may receive: Counsel and Advice, some Brief Assistance, or more Extended Representation. SCLS will do their very best to see that you get all the help that is available to you.
Request a Pro Bono Attorney
There are a few different programs in South Carolina that offer pro bono services. Please note that most have income and asset eligibility requirements that are the same as SCLS – 125% of the Federal poverty rate. If your income and assets don’t qualify for SCLS’ services, you may need to hire a private attorney. If you do meet income and asset eligibility, but SCLS is unable to assist, please ask them to make a referral to the South Carolina Bar Pro Bono Program.
The South Carolina Bar Pro Bono program uses volunteer attorneys to help people with a variety of legal issues throughout the state. There is no guarantee; however, that a volunteer attorney will be able to assist each request.
There are also regional pro bono providers, listed below. The list is subject to change without notice.
Contact a Different Legal Services Provider
Community Mediation Centers:
For additional Legal Needs:
- ACLU of South Carolina
- Center for Heirs Property Preservation
- Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc.
- South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center
- South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families
- South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault
Represent Yourself in Court
Ideally everyone who went to court would have an attorney to represent them. Unfortunately, the current system does not allow that. If you are unable to find an attorney to represent you, and you have either been served with papers or you want to begin a lawsuit on your own, you may represent yourself. If possible, try to speak with an attorney before you begin.
If you are looking for forms, there are two reliable places to turn:
South Carolina Courts
The South Carolina Court has developed a webpage that houses a variety of self-help resources ranging from Frequently Asked Questions to form packets to videos. If you use the forms, please make sure you read the directions before you begin!
South Carolina Legal Services Free Interactive Self-Help Interviews
South Carolina Legal Services worked with partner organizations to develop easy to use court forms. These are based on the South Carolina Court-approved forms. These interviews are easy to use, and help complete all the forms at one sitting. All you need to begin is a computer, an email address and some time. They are found online under the heading “South Carolina Court Approved Forms!”