Dearth of legal aid for low-income Texans ‘really dire’

At a time when lawyers and law firms in Texas are making record amounts of money, the number of Texans who need legal assistance but cannot afford an attorney is at an all-time high.

News Story (Texas)

Mark Curriden
Texas Lawbook
November 22, 2019

Tags: Access to Justice


The chief justice said that between 20 percent and 30 percent of all Texans who seek help from legal aid offices in Texas are turned away due to staff shortages.

While the federal and Texas constitutions require the state to provide lawyers for most criminal defendants, there is no such guarantee for low-income individuals facing civil legal issues or disputes. For decades, those legal needs were satisfied by members of state and local bar associations and by legal aid organizations that were funded by interest earned on trust accounts in which lawyers held clients’ money (known in the legal and banking professions as IOLTA or interest on lawyer trust accounts).

But the legal world changed dramatically over the past decade. The number of low-income people needing legal assistance skyrocketed just as the price lawyers charged ballooned. Bank interest rates plummeted, which resulted in a significant reduction in legal aid funding. And law firms – especially larger corporate law firms – became more concerned with profits per partner and running like a business, which resulted in pressure on lawyers to do more billable work and less pro bono.