Documenting the Justice Gap In America: The Current Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-Income Americans (2009)

By: Legal Services Corporation (LSC). Published in September 2009

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Using new data, this report updates the 2005 Legal Services Corporation (LSC) report, Documenting the Justice Gap in America:The Current Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-Income Americans. Analysis of this data confirms that the conclusion of the 2005 Justice Gap Report remains valid: there continues to be a major gap between the civil legal needs of low-income people and the legal help that they receive.


Data collected in the spring of 2009 show that for every client served by an LSC-funded program, one person who seeks help is turned down because of insufficient resources. New state legal needs studies have added depth to a body of social science knowledge that has produced consistent findings for a decade and a half, documenting that only a small fraction of the legal problems experienced by low-income people (less than one in five) are addressed with the assistance of either a private attorney (pro bono or paid) or a legal aid lawyer.

Analysis of the most recent available figures on attorney employment shows that nationally,on the average, only one legal aid attorney is available for every 6,415 low-income people. By comparison, there is one private attorney providing personal legal services (those meeting the legal needs of private individuals and families) for every 429 people in the general population who are above the LSC poverty threshold.

New data indicate that state courts, especially those courts that deal with issues affecting low income people, in particular lower state courts and such specialized courts as housing and family courts, are facing significantly increased numbers of unrepresented litigants. Studies show that the vast majority of people who appear without representation are unable to afford an attorney, and a large percentage of them are low-income people who qualify for legal aid. A growing body of research indicates that outcomes for unrepresented litigants are often less favorable than those for represented litigants.

Categories: Legal Aid Attorneys, National, Policymakers and Funders

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