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State assistance for private individuals with legal problems

Some legal problems cannot be solved without help. In Germany, people who cannot afford legal assistance in such situations can receive support from the state under certain conditions.

To do this, Germany offers two central options for financial assistance with legal issues:

1. Counseling assistance [Beratungshilfe]

Counseling assistance allows financial support for people with low incomes for legal advice by a counselor [Beratungsperson] – (e.g. lawyers and tax advisors). Support is provided with a so called “Beratungsschein” / similarly to a voucher (see below “How do I get counselling assistance?”). Counselling is possible in almost all areas of law (in criminal law only with restrictions). As the term implies, it is primarily about advice on legal issues. However, if necessary in an individual case, this can also include representation outside of court by a lawyer.

• Counseling assistance is available to those who have very little financial resources at their disposal and would therefore also receive the highest possible form of legal aid (see below, Option A in “Who is entitled to legal aid?”).

• If other counseling services are available, these must first be utilized before being entitled to counselling assistance. Other possibilities are for example offered by:

  • Trade unions – especially on labour law issues,
  • Tenants’ associations [Mieterverein] – especially on questions of tenancy law,
  • Public authorities that provide counselling, e.g. the Offices for Migration and Refugees [Ausländerbehörde], social welfare offices, employment agencies, and youth welfare offices
  • First, consult your local court [Amtsgericht] in person and describe your legal issue there. Alternatively, you can apply for counseling assistance at your local court in writing using this form.
  • You must provide information about your personal and financial circumstances in order to demonstrate that you cannot afford legal advice without assistance. Take documents with you for demonstration purposes (e.g. identity card, proof of income, bank statements, rental agreement, etc.).
  • The local court will issue you with a consultation certificate [Beratungsschein] if the requirements are met. With it you can consult a counselor of your choice. You will have to pay 15€ to the lawyer, the rest of the costs will be settled by the counselor on the basis of the consultation certificate with the state treasury. You can find a counselor, for example, on the websites of the bar associations [Rechtsanwaltskammern].
  • In Bremen and Hamburg, there is no counseling assistance. Here, advice is provided by public legal advice service (in Hamburg: Public legal information and settlement offices [Öffentliche Rechtsauskunfts- und Vergleichsstellen]; in Bremen: Bremen Bar Association [Bremischer Anwaltsverein] and Bremen Chamber of Employees [Arbeitnehmerkammer Bremen]).
  • In Berlin, you can choose between public legal advice and counseling assistance, as described above. You can find public legal counselling on the websites of the district offices [Bezirksamt].

2. Legal aid [Prozesskostenhilfe]

If advice is not enough, but a court proceeding is necessary to clarify a legal issue, legal aid covers the costs of the court proceeding (including your attorney’s fees), a portion of the legal costs, or allows you to pay in installments if you meet the requirements (see below). Depending on your financial situation there are different levels of granting:

A) Covering all the costs of the court case (including your lawyer’s fees)

B) Covering part of the legal costs

C) Enablement to pay back in instalments instead

Caution!

  • If you lose the case, you may have to pay the fees of the opposing counsel.
  • If your financial situation improves in the 4 years following the end of the proceedings, the legal aid granted can be reclaimed.

Anyone with so little income and assets available that they cannot afford the costs of litigation or can afford them only in part or only in installments. Legal costs are only paid in full if the person’s assets are so low that it is not possible to contribute to the legal costs under any circumstances. The following is also examined:

  • The proceedings must offer a prospect of success (i.e. you must have a chance of winning the case)
  • The proceeding must not be brought willfully (that means you would not refrain from the process even if you had to bear the costs yourself).
  • You must file a request with the court that has jurisdiction over your (potential) case.
  • You must enclose a statement of your personal and financial circumstances and copies of relevant supporting documents (e.g. identity card, proof of income, bank statements, rental agreement, etc.) with this application. You can obtain a form for the required form here.

On this page we explain the basic outlines of this system. On this page we explain the basic outlines of this system. More detailed and well-prepared information on counseling assistance and legal aid with case examples can be found in the Ministry of Justice’s handout in German, English and Arabic.