The Justice Gap: How Big Law Is Failing Legal Aid

An in-depth examination of law firms' lack of financial contributions to civil legal aid.
Feature (NATIONAL)

Susan Beck
June 29, 2015
Full story

Tags: Delivery Systems, Funding: Federal, Funding: IOLTA, Funding: State & Local, Justice Gap, Legal Needs, Pro Se/Self-Help

Organizations mentioned/involved: Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, Legal Services Corporation (LSC), National Center for Access to Justice (NCAJ) at Fordham Law School, D.C. Access to Justice Commission (DCAJC), Legal Aid Society (New York City)


That’s how, in a country with one of the highest concentrations of lawyers in the world, poor people often are forced to navigate the potential loss of their home, their children or their benefits on their own.
The crisis in legal aid isn’t new. What is new is that since the recession, profits and revenue at Am Law 200 firms are healthy again—in many cases, surging. Last year, the collective revenue of these firms passed the $100 billion mark for the first time. Many recorded all-time highs in revenues and profits, and profits per partner at a dozen firms exceeded $3 million.

Yet in our analysis—the first time we’ve looked deeply at firms’ legal aid giving—it appears that the most generous firms contribute little more than one-tenth of 1 percent of their gross revenue to groups that provide basic legal services for the poor, and many fall far below that amount. This doesn’t include individual donations by firm lawyers, which isn’t feasible to track. While individual donations are important, institutional giving by law firms is crucial for legal aid groups, those organizations say.