The Unmet Need for Legal Aid

Nearly a million poor people who seek help for civil legal problems are turned away because of the lack of adequate resources. The justice gap represents the difference between the level of civil legal assistance available and the level that is necessary to meet the legal needs of low-income individuals and families. According to LSC’s 2017 report Documenting the Justice Gap in America, of the estimated 1.7 million civil legal problems for which low-income Americans seek LSC-funded legal aid, 1.0-1.2 million (62%-72%) received inadequate or no legal assistance. That means for every 100 problems for clients served by LSC programs, between 62 and 72 of the problems are unable to receive the help they need. 

State studies consistently show a higher percentage (80%) of the civil legal needs of the eligible population are not being met. A recent study by the Boston Bar Association found that in Massachusetts civil legal aid programs turn away 64% of eligible cases. Nearly 33,000 low-income residents in Massachusetts were denied the aid of a lawyer in life-essential matters involving eviction; foreclosure; and family law such as cases involving child abuse and domestic violence. People seeking assistance with family law cases were turned away 80% of the time.

New York’s recent findings confirm national data that less than 20% of all civil legal needs of low-income families and individuals are met. In 2013 more than 1.8 million litigants were not represented by counsel in civil proceedings in New York’s state courts.

In New York City:

  • 91% of petitioners and 92% of respondents do not have lawyers in child support matters in family court.
  • 99% of tenants are unrepresented in eviction proceedings.

In New York State:

  • 87% of petitioners and 86% of respondents do not have lawyers in child support matters in family court.
  • 91% of tenants are unrepresented in eviction proceedings.

Nationally, LSC grantees served nearly 1.9 million low-income persons in 2014. Millions more requested assistance but did not receive it because of the lack of adequate resources.

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