Legal-Aid Crisis

October 7, 2011 • Volume 21, Issue 35
Do the poor have adequate access to legal services?
By Barbara Mantel


Isabel and Juan Muneton (AP Photo/Lisa Poole)
Isabel and Juan Muneton received free help from a Neighborhood Legal Services lawyer after a bank tried to evict them without warning from their apartment in Lawrence, Mass. (AP Photo/Lisa Poole)

More than one in seven Americans lives below the poverty line, the highest proportion in nearly two decades, and many cannot afford a lawyer to resolve non-criminal legal problems involving such issues as spousal abuse, eviction, child custody and consumer fraud. Government-financed legal-aid programs have long helped fill the gap, but the weak economy and enormous pressure on state and federal budgets are putting those programs at risk. The Legal Services Corp., a nonprofit that distributes federal funding to civil legal-aid programs nationwide, faces potentially steep budget cuts in Congress, and some conservatives want to end the program altogether. As money for legal-aid programs shrinks, a growing number of poor people are representing themselves in court — often to their own detriment. Meanwhile, debate continues about whether the nation's 1 million private lawyers should be required to provide free legal help to the poor.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Oct. 07, 2011  Legal-Aid Crisis
Apr. 18, 2008  Public Defenders
Nov. 09, 2007  Prosecutors and the Law
May 22, 1992  Too Many Lawsuits?
Jul. 20, 1984  Lawyers in America
Aug. 02, 1972  Legal Profession in Transition
Feb. 27, 1963  Public Defenders
Legal Professions and Resources