WASHINGTON – A group of lawyers has come out to oppose a Trump administration plan to cut off funding to the Legal Services Corp.
A letter was sent to John Michael Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget from more than 150 law firm leaders, voicing their support of community-based legal services programs.
“We are deeply concerned about the reported plans of the Office of Management and Budget to propose a budget eliminating funding for the Legal Services Corp. (LSC),” the letter stated.
"LSC provides vital civil legal aid in all 50 states to a wide range of Americans: women seeking protection from domestic violence, families struggling to stay in their homes, homeless veterans seeking the benefits they earned, disaster victims needing help to recover. We know the value of LSC first-hand.
“Through our lawyers, our firms provide millions of hours of free legal services to individuals in desperate need of assistance,” the lawyers said in the letter. “This volunteer service is not independent of the legal aid agencies funded by the Legal Services Corp. – rather, our ability to provide pro bono legal services is directly dependent on partnership with legal aid organizations, which screen cases for merit and eligibility, and train and mentor our attorneys.”
According to the letter, eliminating the Legal Services Corp. would not only imperil the ability of civil legal aid organizations to serve Americans in need, it will also vastly diminish the private bar’s capacity to help these individuals.
“The pro bono activity facilitated by LSC funding is exactly the kind of public-private partnership the government should encourage, not eliminate,” the lawyers wrote. “Moreover, LSC-funded civil legal aid is essential to individuals living in rural areas that large law firms have difficulty serving because of lawyers’ geographic location and/or bar membership.”
Moreover, the attorneys also noted that in many counties nationwide, LSC grantees are the only available legal assistance available for low-income Americans.
Akerman Chairman & CEO Andrew Smulian joined more than 150 law firm leaders by adding his name to the letter.
“If LSC is defunded by the federal government, the lack of financial resources for legal services for those in need would affect many communities,” he said in a statement. “Eliminating legal aid funding does not erase the legal and social needs of the poor; it only shifts the cost liability to locally-funded social services organizations and further burdens our already-overwhelmed civil justice systems.”
Smulian added that private pro bono programs are directly dependent on legal services organizations to screen cases for eligibility and merit, provide expertise, training, and guidance for volunteer lawyers, and create projects that allow firms to work collaboratively to meet the unique needs of each local community.
“At Akerman, we want to continue to do our part to ensure access to justice for all – but we cannot fulfill this role effectively without the important leadership of our LSC and its partners,” he added.
According to the letter, state studies have shown that the problems solved by legal aid offer a strong return on investment.
One instance cited is a 2011 Pennsylvania Economic Impact Study by the Pennsylvania Finance and Budget Committee and the Pennsylvania IOLTA program "estimated that for each dollar spent on legal aid, $11 of quantifiable economic outcomes and savings were realized for all residents of Pennsylvania," the press release states
Additionally, the Florida Bar Foundation found that the return on investment was $7 for every dollar spent and the Iowa Legal Aid Foundation estimated a six-fold return on investment; Virginia found $5:$1; and Tennessee found $11:$1, according to the release.
“Our firms, as well as our individual lawyers, give generously to LSC grantees because we know this is a wise investment,” the letter continued.
The letter also pointed out that Congress formed LSC in 1974 in a bi-partisan voted. At the time, it could that "there is a need to provide high quality legal assistance to those who would be otherwise unable to afford adequate legal counsel."
In the letter, the lawyers found that the same issues remain true today.
“Our firms have been doing our part, through our robust pro bono commitments, to ensure access to justice for low-income Americans,” the letter concluded. “We need the federal government to continue to do its part, by funding LSC, so that we can continue to provide this help.”