New Mexico Legal Aid

Advancing fairness & justice for all
Free legal aid in New Mexico



Inside New Mexico Legal Aid's Transformative IRA Unit

What is New Mexico Legal Aid’s IRA Unit? What do we do?

In the Summer of 2018, New Mexico Legal Aid implemented an “intake unit” to better coordinate statewide intake services and began with 6 staff.

The unit is now known as the Statewide Intake, Referral & Advice Unit or ‘IRA’ and is now staffed by 4 intake specialists, 4 paralegals, 9 staff attorneys, and 1 managing attorney. Five of the staff are fluent in Spanish, and when applicants speak a language other than English or Spanish, the staff use a telephone interpretation service.

“Intake” services are provided to applicants: (1) by an Intake Phone Line open Monday through Thursday from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm and (2) through an Online Application service generally available 24/7.

“Referral” services are provided as needed by all IRA staff, whether at the intake stage when NMLA services cannot be provided or by a staff attorney who recognizes other needs of the applicant or client; IRA staff attorneys also make referrals to other NMLA Practice and Specialty Groups for cases that fit within their case priorities.

“Advice” and limited services are provided by the 9 staff attorneys assigned specifically to the IRA.

IRA Intake screeners & paralegals who “complete intakes” are essentially conducting eligibility screening and collecting demographic data. They screen (1) for legal issues that are within NMLA stated case priorities, (2) for financial eligibility (NMLA can provide services to families whose household income is within 200% of the federal poverty level set by Congress; however, NMLA also has funding to provide services when some households are above this financial level), and (3) for citizenship or immigration status eligibility.

The intake specialists must be highly up-to-date about all the various legal issues that NMLA handles and about eligibility criteria. They must also know as much as possible about other programs within New Mexico’s legal and social services communities to provide alternative resources when NMLA staff cannot offer legal help. And they must contend with understandably irate applicants and clients for whom we cannot provide the level of service that they were expecting.

Applicants for legal help hear in the media about a “right to a lawyer.” They may not understand that this “right to an attorney” is limited to only certain types of criminal cases. Our legal system does not grant any right to an attorney when the issue does not involve criminal charges. Non-criminal legal issues are the type of legal issues that New Mexico Legal Aid helps with. Also, throughout the nation, there is 1 ‘legal aid’ attorney for every 10,000 legal issues that need help. So, New Mexico Legal Aid attorneys must turn away many deserving people who apply for legal help. But in 2023, the New Mexico Legal Aid IRA Unit fielded over 7,900 phone calls and processed over 3,600 online applications. Over 6,300 cases received legal services or referrals.

NMLA’s IRA Advice Attorneys, supported by the intake screeners & paralegals, work miracles daily. Each day, they accept from 5 to 20 new cases completed from intake the day before, and they proceed to provide advice and coach clients so that they can most effectively self-advocate.

Client success stories include a client who learned how to write a letter demanding the return of a security deposit and then receiving their full deposit in return; a client coached by an IRA attorney about their eviction trial scheduled for the next day against a landlord represented by an attorney and that lasted 3 hours and learning that the client won at the trial; a client who received solid advice about their rights and responsibilities as a tenant who unfortunately had to vacate their rental unit but who proclaimed that now they knew what to do correctly the next time to protect themself.

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