What to Do With Your Bonus

Here's a suggestion for something else to do with a teeny-tiny sliver of that bonus money: Write a generous check to a civil legal aid group.

Blog Post (NATIONAL)

Susan Beck
December 22, 2015

Tags: Access to Justice, Funding: Private/Foundation

Organizations mentioned/involved: Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, National Center for Access to Justice (NCAJ) at Fordham Law School, Philadelphia Legal Assistance, Legal Services Corporation (LSC)


Most associates probably know that legal aid providers could use more money. But I’m not sure that enough understand how terribly desperate the situation is for poor people who have serious civil legal problems. Most legal aid groups are forced to turn away more than half the people who seek their help simply for lack of funding. There is just one legal aid lawyer for every 8,893 low-income Americans who qualify for legal aid, according to the Justice Index, a project of the National Center for Access to Justice at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

As every lawyer knows, our legal system can be complex and maddeningly confusing. Imagine being poor and facing a serious civil legal issue—an eviction, a child custody dispute or domestic violence emergency—and trying to deal with it without counsel. Philadelphia County, for example, sees roughly 11,000 requests for protective orders in domestic violence situations every year, but Philadelphia Legal Assistance has to turn away 95 percent of those women and others who ask for help in those predicaments.

In a perverse twist, a person criminally charged with domestic abuse has the constitutional right to a lawyer, but in most jurisdictions the victim seeking a protective order doesn’t have the right to a lawyer because it’s a civil matter.