Paul L. Caron

Monday, November 24, 2014

NY Times: A Push for Legal Aid in Civil Cases Finds Its Advocates

New York Times, A Push for Legal Aid in Civil Cases Finds Its Advocates:

ShriveFree legal assistance in noncriminal cases is rare and growing rarer. A recent study in Massachusetts found that two-thirds of low-income residents who seek legal help are turned away. Nationally, important civil legal needs are met only about 20 percent of the time for low-income Americans, according to James J. Sandman, president of the Legal Services Corporation, a federal agency that finances legal aid groups. ...

Established in 2011, the [Eviction Asistance Center in Los Angeles] is part of an experiment by the California courts on the benefits of providing more lawyers and legal advice to low-income people in civil cases such as child custody, protective orders against abusers, guardianship and, most commonly, evictions. 

“We’re trying to level the playing field,” said Neal S. Dudovitz, the executive director of Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, a group that manages the eviction center in the downtown courthouse. With funds from the Shriver project, as the experiment is known, supporting about 16 lawyers from four legal aid groups, the center is providing full or partial assistance to one-third of the 15,000 tenants who face evictions each year in this courthouse alone.

The California initiative and similar projects in New York, Massachusetts and elsewhere aim not only to help more needy clients but also to improve guidelines for the unavoidable and often painful legal triage: In a sea of unmet needs, who most needs a lawyer, who can do with some “self-help” direction? What happens to those who must be turned away?

The projects also hope to show that filling more of the civil “justice gap,” as it is known, can bring net financial gains for society. ...

Congressional funding for the Legal Services Corporation, at $365 million this year, is down from $420 million in 2010. Yet, the share of the population with incomes below 125 percent of the poverty line, the corporation’s target group, is higher than ever, at about one-fifth of the population. ...

Out of necessity, a search is intensifying for less costly alternatives that do not require extensive time from lawyers. In one promising part of the California project, Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance has used mediators, for example, to resolve a share of eviction orders.

| Permalink