Three experts and a prominent legal writer explored the state of civil legal aid in the United States in a special online program hosted by the American Bar Association on Nov. 30 as part of the release of the 2023 Profile of the Legal Profession, an annual compilation of statistics and trends among lawyers, judges and law students.
Participants in the one-hour webinar, “Civil Legal Aid in America: A Challenge for Equal Justice,” tackled a range of issues related to civil legal aid and justice, including the pressing legal needs of low-income individuals, student debt and salary impediments to recruiting and retaining civil legal aid lawyers.
The report’s new chapter on civil legal aid drew from original ABA research showing differences in the number of paid legal aid attorneys among the 50 states, and detailed where the more than 10,000 of them are — and are not. The ABA released the fifth annual Profile, a 142-page report, earlier that day.
The moderator of the program, Lincoln Caplan, a writer and lecturer at Yale University, cited studies by the Legal Services Corporation that only about 8% of persons eligible for civil legal aid succeed in getting that help. He added that a large percentage of people “don’t have an inkling that their problem is legal.”
Panelist Rebecca Sandefur, a sociologist and professor at Arizona State University, added that research indicates that 120 million civil justice issues annually don’t get resolved, and that leads to a “lot of suffering and a lot of hardships.”
For many low-income people, civil justice means “access to basic needs,” said panelist Radhika Singh, vice president for civil legal services and strategic policy initiatives at the National Legal Aid & Defender Association. She added that for many civil legal aid lawyers, “Our mission is justice.”
Panelist Jeniece Jones, executive director of the Public Justice Center, a Maryland statewide civil legal service provider, underscored the impact that unresolved civil legal aid problems can have on low-income individuals. “For most people, this is going to change one’s life if I don’t get help,” she said.
- 2023 Profile of the Legal Profession
- Panel for “Civil Legal Aid in America: A Challenge for Equal Justice”:
- Legal Services Corporation: “The Justice Gap: The Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-income Americans”
- ABArray: National Legal Aid Funding Data
- ABA Journal coverage of ABA Profile of the Legal Profession reports