Legal Aid Lacking, Report Finds

Dec 11, 2009

Programs funded by the nation’s largest legal aid network turned away one out of every two people seeking help for domestic violence and other civil legal problems, according to a report released in September by the Legal Services Corporation (LSC).

By the end of the year, that will amount to nearly a million people who will have been unable to access legal aid services offered by the 137 nonprofit programs funded by the corporation, according to the report.

“This nation is built on the promise of equal justice under law, but there is a justice gap in America,” LSC President Helaine M. Barnett said in a statement. “We must do more to close the justice gap and provide equal access to justice for all Americans, regardless of their economic status.”

The “justice gap” – the difference between the level of legal assistance available to low-income people and the level that is needed to serve them – is slightly wider than it was 2008, according to the report.

Even though Congress has appropriated more money to legal aid programs in recent years, such programs have suffered from a decline in funding from state and local governments and from charitable individuals and foundations affected by the economic downturn, according to the report.

To complete it, the corporation collected data from grantee programs over a two-month period this year; compared recent state legal needs studies; conducted a national count of legal aid attorneys; and analyzed new data on unrepresented litigants. 

Click here to read the full report, “Documenting the Justice Gap in America: The Current Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-Income Americans.”

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