By: Alan Houseman. Published by: Consortium for the National Equal Justice Library. Published in: December 2015.
Houseman writes that the Obama administration has been very supportive of civil legal aid efforts, but the recent Congresses of the last 6 years has presented barriers for legal aid. Rather than being able to increase government funding, the Legal Services Corporation and other such civil legal aid practitioners have had to fight to retain the services and funding already provided. Thus, while improvements have been made in educating underserved people about their legal rights, providing access to legal representation remains a challenge. Legal aid programs are simply still too underresourced to accommodate all who need and qualify for legal aid services.
Despite the ongoing challenges impeding the ability of civil legal aid researchers and practitioners to close the justice gap in legal proceedings, many promising developments have occurred in recent years.
Highlights of the last year include:
- LSC technology summit of 2014 set the goal of serving 100% of candidates eligible for legal aid services. They plan to utilize technology to this end, by better utilizing mobile technologies and creating an automatic triage process in each state, among other tactics.
- In September 2016, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum to formally establish the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable (WH-LAIR). Convened and staffed by the U.S Department of Justice Office for Access to Justice, LAIR’s goal is to “maximize federal program effectiveness by integrating legal aid providers as partners, grantees or subgrantees in federal safety-net programs when doing so can improve outcomes.” The memorandum expanded LAIR’s mission to include the advancement of legal aid research and the promotion of best practices in the field.
- There has been an increased effort to expand Access to Justice commissions to each state. These commissions are one of the best ways to provide and expand comprehensive legal aid state-wide.
- The ABA Directory of Law Governing Appointment of Counsel in State Civil Proceedings catalogs all the civil proceedings that require, or permit, or do not permit counsel, by state. Efforts to increase the right to counsel in more civil proceedings, including family and tenant proceedings, are underway.
- There has been a great push in increasing and improving services for self-represented individuals. These vary from outlining the role lawyers can play for pro se individuals, creating a national inventory of self-representation centers, and utilizing document assembly technology.
- Legal assistance from non-lawyers such as Limited License Legal Technicians and Navigators is being studied to determine their potential to provide valuable out-of-court legal assistance to otherwise unrepresented clients.