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
Moreover, the attorneys also noted that in many counties
nationwide, LSC grantees are the only available legal assistance available for
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
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
“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.”