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June 30, 2017

LSC “Justice Gap” report describes nation’s unmet legal needs

A new report unveiled June 14 by the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) revealed that low-income Americans receive inadequate or no professional legal help for 86 percent of the civil legal problems they face in a given year.

At an event on Capitol Hill, LSC President James J. Sandman said the report, The Justice Gap: Measuring the Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-income Americans, showed that the “vast majority of low-income Americans have significant civil legal needs that affect their families, their livelihoods, and their safety, and that our civil legal system fails, overwhelmingly, to meet those needs.”

“The bottom line: we are not fulfilling our nation’s solemn pledge of justice for all,” Sandman emphasized.

The detailed report, based on a survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago, showed that one in four low-income households experienced six or more civil legal problems in the past year, including 67 percent of households with survivors of domestic violence or sexual abuse.

Legal problems included issues related to veterans benefits, domestic violence, disability access, housing conditions, and health care. Low-income Americans, however, seek professional legal help for only 20 percent of the civil legal problems they face.

LSC, the single largest funder of civil legal aid programs in the United States, supports 133 legal aid organizations across the United States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the territories. While LSC-funded programs will assist an estimated 1 million Americans this year, those individuals will receive only limited or no legal help for between 62 percent and 72 percent of their problems because of lack of resources.

“The Justice Gap report underscores how important it is to fund and support legal services across the country,” said ABA President Linda A. Klein, emphasizing that “legal services can provide hope and help people get on with their normal lives.” Stressing the contribution of LSC, she said that without the corporation, “courthouse doors will be closed to low-income Americans with unmet legal needs.”

Also appearing at the event were LSC Board member and ABA Past President Robert J. Grey Jr.; LSC Board Chairman John G. Levi; Reps. Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-Mass.) and Susan Brooks (R-Ind.); Harriet Miers, a partner at Locke Lorde LLP and former White House counsel; J. Michael Dennis, senior vice president of NORC at the University of Chicago; University of Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh; and Kenneth C. Frazier, chairman and chief executive officer, Merck & Co.

Miers, who also serves on the ABA Standing Committee on Governmental Affairs, emphasized that providing legal services is a noble cause. “It is not partisan. It is the right thing to do,” she said.

Back to the June 2017 Washington Letter