Legal Assistance Services FAQ
- What is legal assistance?
- What is a legal assistance attorney?
- If I see a legal assistance attorney, will my information remain confidential?
- How much will it cost to see a legal assistance attorney?
- Who is eligible for legal assistance?
- What type of services can a legal assistance office provide?
- What services are not available from Navy legal assistance offices?
- Will the Navy provide me representation for my divorce case?
- Can a legal assistance attorney represent me in court?
- Will the Navy provide me representation for my civil case involving landlord/tenant or any other non-divorce matter?
- Are there any limitations on estate planning services provided by the Navy legal service office?
- What is a Power of Attorney?
- What are the types of Power of Attorney?
- Who needs a Power of Attorney?
- I have an appointment to have my will done with a Navy attorney. What can I expect at the appointment and what do I need to bring to that appointment?
- Why was I told that I could not be seen by a particular legal assistance office?
- Why can’t the staff give legal advice?
- Why does the Armed Forces provide legal assistance to its service members?
- What is the legal authority for legal assistance?
- Where do I go for help with criminal matters?
- Is legal assistance available for victims of sexual assault?
- I have a formal Physical Evaluation Board (PEB) pending; will a legal assistance attorney represent me at that board?
- I am being medically processed out of the service, but I am not at the point where I have a formal PEB pending. Who do I contact for legal advice?
Q. What is legal assistance?
A. Legal assistance enhances the readiness and welfare of active duty and reserve members of the Armed Forces by providing quality legal services regarding personal civil legal matters to eligible persons, and by educating eligible persons regarding their personal legal rights and responsibilities. Legal assistance accomplishes its mission by direct client assistance services and a vigorous preventive law program that educates and informs the military community through a variety of creative and stimulating outreach efforts.
Q. What is a legal assistance attorney?
A. A legal assistance attorney is a military judge advocate or civilian attorney who is duly licensed to practice law before the courts of one or more state and federal jurisdictions, and is authorized by the Judge Advocate General to perform legal assistance functions. He or she represents the interests of the individual client concerning personal civil legal matters by advising the client, and in limited instances, directly advocating for the client.
Q. If I see a legal assistance attorney, will my information remain confidential?
A.Yes. Information and files pertaining to legal assistance clients are private and privileged under law and applicable professional rules and guidelines. The information and documents contained in a client's file will not be disclosed to anyone by the attorney providing legal assistance, except upon the express specific permission of the client or when the attorney determines that disclosure is authorized or required by law or applicable rules of professional conduct. The unauthorized release of confidential client information cannot be made lawful by order of superior military authority.
Q. How much will it cost to see a legal assistance attorney?
A. The services provided through the Navy Legal Assistance Program are free to eligible personnel. However, clients are required to pay for all costs associated with their case, such as court costs or agency fees if applicable.
Q: Who is eligible for legal assistance?A. Eligibility for legal assistance varies somewhat among the military services. Generally, Navy legal assistance is available to the following:
- Members of the armed forces on active duty (including members of a reserve component).
- Following release from active duty orders for 30 days or more, members of reserve components are eligible for legal assistance for a period beginning on the date of release from active duty and continuing for a period equal to twice the length of the period served on those active duty orders.
- Retired military personnel.
- Dependents (spouses and minor children) of those listed above, who are entitled to a military identification card.
- Inactive members of the reserve components, subject to federal mobilization, may receive deployment-related legal assistance.
- Civilian employees and contractors deploying to or in a theater of operations may receive wills and powers of attorney.
- Civilian assigned outside the United States and its territories, including their dependents residing with them employees.
Q. What type of services can a legal assistance office provide?A. Advice and/or service regarding the following matters are normally available at legal assistance offices:
- Wills with and without testamentary trusts.
- General estate planning advice.
- Domestic relations advice, including divorce, legal separation, annulment, custody, and paternity.
- Adoption and name changes advice.
- Immigration and naturalization advice.
- Nonsupport and indebtedness including, communication, correspondence and negotiations with another party or lawyer.
- Consumer Fraud and Abuse advice, including identity theft.
- Powers of Attorney and Notary services.
- Basic tax advice and assistance on Federal, State, and local taxes.
- Landlord-tenant relations, including tenant advice concerning review of personal leases and communication and correspondence.
- Small Claims Civil suits, including preparation of correspondence and certain documents. However, advice and document preparation will not be provided in cases where civilian counsel has been retained. In-court representation is precluded except through the expanded legal assistance program, the availability of which varies among the services.
- Military Rights and Benefits, including Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) advice and assistance.
Q. What services are not available from Navy legal assistance offices?
A. Legal assistance attorneys are prohibited from the following acts:
- Legal assistance attorneys do not advise opposing parties on the same issue.
- Representation of opposing parties or interests: Each service has varying procedures. Generally, if two or more eligible persons with conflicting interests seek advice from the same legal assistance office on the same matter, the party first establishing an attorney-client relationship will be provided representation. This rule applies even if the conflicted party who will not be able to receive legal assistance is the military service member. Every effort will be made to refer the party with a conflicting interest to another source of free legal assistance or, if no such source is available, to a private civilian attorney via a county bar association or state bar association referral service. Legal assistance attorneys may not direct you to a specific civilian attorney.
- Legal assistance attorneys do not provide advice on private business ventures.
- Legal assistance attorneys do not provide advice on issues or interests in conflict with, or opposed to, the interests of the United States.
- Proceedings involving the United States: Legal assistance attorneys are prohibited from representing or advising an individual in a matter in which the United States has a direct and substantial interest, whether or not the Government's position is adverse to that of the individual.
- Legal assistance attorneys do not provide advice or assistance in official military matters. Legal advice concerning official military matters is outside the scope of the legal assistance program. However, command services judge advocates may advise commanders and other members on official military matters in their capacity as military attorneys representing the best interests of their particular service.
- Legal assistance attorneys do not represent service members or their dependents in family court.
- Legal assistance attorneys do not provide advice on military justice matters. Legal assistance duties are separate and apart from responsibilities of trial counsel, defense counsel, or others involved in processing courts-martial, non-judicial punishments, administrative boards or proceedings, and investigations. Members accused or suspected of offenses or conduct that may result in disciplinary or judicial proceedings under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, or processing for administrative discharges, will be referred to a defense counsel.
- Legal assistance attorneys do not provide advice to third parties.
- Advice to third parties is prohibited: The privileged attorney-client relationship requires personal and private communication between the attorney and client.
Q. Will the Navy provide me representation for my divorce case?
A. No. Divorce is a state matter, not a military or federal matter; therefore, you will need to seek local counsel in the jurisdiction where you intend to file your divorce case. Since state laws vary, a Navy attorney can give you general advice about separation and divorce procedures, about custody and visitation rights and obligations, and advise you on how to find an attorney who can represent you. In some instances the Navy may be able to help active duty personnel locate a pro bono (free) attorney if you meet the income eligibility requirements.
Q. Can a legal assistance attorney represent me in court?
A. Navy legal assistance has an Expanded Legal Assistance Program (ELAP), which, in very limited instances, allows attorneys from authorized legal assistance offices to provide in-court representation to eligible active duty military personnel and dependents who could not otherwise afford legal representation. In-court representation is not guaranteed due to limited resources. The client must pay all fees and costs connected with an ELAP case. Because of the time involved and the limited resources available, cases chosen for ELAP usually must have a foreseeable impact beyond the individual being represented; e.g., systematic landlord abuse of service members and consumer scams that specifically target service members.
Q. Will the Navy provide me representation for my civil case involving landlord/tenant or any other non-divorce matter?
A. Ordinarily, no. However, under limited circumstances according to the local office’s policy, an attorney may be able to represent you in certain matters. Even if they are unable to represent you in court, legal assistance attorneys can advise you on the specifics of your case, assist in helping you find counsel, or prepare you to represent yourself in small claims court.
Q. Are there any limitations on estate planning services provided by the Navy legal service office?
A. Yes. If you own an S Corporation, own a working farm (or a share in a working farm), or you have the need for a revocable or irrevocable living trust, a Navy attorney will not be able to prepare a will for you. Due to the complexity of these issues it is advisable for you to seek expert private civilian counsel to assist in your estate planning. In addition, if you have extensive assets, there may be a limit to the services the Navy legal assistance office can provide. The decision on whether a Navy legal assistance attorney can help with your estate planning needs can be ascertained after the first meeting with a Navy attorney.
Q. What is a Power of Attorney?
A. A "power of attorney" gives another person (called your "agent" or "attorney-in-fact") the legal authority to act in your place and on your behalf in your absence. Every act your agent does within the authority granted in the document is legally binding upon you.
Q. What are the types of Power of Attorney?A. A power of attorney is usually given by someone who will be unable to be present at a particular time and/or place when important transactions must be conducted. The scope of a power of attorney may be very broad or very narrow, depending on your needs. There are basically two types of power of attorney:
- General Financial Power of Attorney: This power of attorney grants your agent the power to do the things you could do yourself with respect to your financial matters, such as deposit and withdraw money from accounts; pay bills, set up autopay accounts, obtain loans, pay taxes, etc.
- Special Power of Attorney: A special, or limited, power of attorney authorizes your agent to do a certain specified act, such as ship household goods, sell an automobile, or buy or sell a house.
Q. Who needs a Power of Attorney?A. Those persons who are about to become physically separated from their property or their affairs, and whose property or affairs will be needing attention or management during their absence, may need a power of attorney. Also, parents who are leaving their children with a guardian will need a special power of attorney. The document should grant no power greater than that which is needed under the circumstances. A power of attorney should be given for a limited time only. Powers of attorney are written for no more than one year.
- Power of Attorney Durability Clause: Normally a power of attorney becomes null and void if you become disabled. A "durable" power of attorney will allow your agent to continue to act even if you become disabled. Whether your power of attorney needs a durability clause depends on its nature and purpose, the amount of time needed, the degree of trust between you and your agent, and your age and health.
- Power of Attorney Revocation: The authority granted in your power of attorney ends with the death of either you or your agent. The power also terminates at the expiration of the time stated, or may be revoked by providing notice to your agent that you are revoking the power. Revocation will take effect as soon as it is communicated to the agent and to all persons who may have dealt with the agent in reliance on the power of attorney. It is advisable to recover all copies of the document and destroy them so no further use of the power may be made. If the power of attorney has been recorded as part of the public records (for example, with respect to real estate transactions), a properly acknowledged revocation must be recorded to ensure the revocation of the power of attorney is made effective. If you have previously executed a power of attorney which has served its purpose, retrieve it. If you cannot get it back, consult a legal assistance office concerning the steps necessary to affect its revocation.