What the Poor Really Need Is Legal Aid

Now is the time for a Second Wave Revolution in Big Law pro bono.


Susan Beck
June 24, 2016

Tags: Justice for All, Law Firms, Pro Bono

Organizations mentioned/involved: Legal Services Corporation (LSC), Legal Aid Society (New York City)


n a Second Wave Revolution, firms would organize to get more funding for legal services groups, whether through lobbying or other efforts to convince courts and lawmakers to boost funding. “We need to come together as a Big Law community—people who run pro bono and the lions of the profession—and make that a priority,” Schulman says. The Akin Gump partner suggests that firms set targets to increase funding for legal aid in their community by a specified amount, say 10 percent in one year.

It’s a great idea. As every lawyer should know, groups that provide legal services to the poor are desperately underfunded, and most have to turn away more than half of the people who seek their help. The vast majority of tenants go unrepresented in landlord tenant court. Many poor women seeking protective orders for domestic violence can’t get a lawyer. It’s a crisis that goes beyond legal issues and exacerbates the cycle of poverty and the burgeoning income inequality gap.

The federally funded Legal Services Corp., the biggest single source of funding for legal aid groups, received just $385 million from Congress for the current fiscal year. Adjusted for inflation, that’s less than half of what it got in the 1970s. (On a rare bright note, it was 10 percent more than it received the prior fiscal year.)