Measuring the Justice Gap

Last week, the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) released a report, The Justice Gap: Measuring the Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-Income Americans,”  which is the result of a survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago of 2,000 Americans living at or below 125% of the Federal Poverty Level.  The report takes a detailed look at documents the extent of the “the justice gap,” which  LSC defines “as the difference between the civil legal needs of low-income Americans and the resources available to meet those needs.”

Key findings include:

  • Seventy-one percent of low-income households experienced at least one civil legal problem during the past year in areas such as healthcare, housing conditions, disability access, veterans’ benefits, education, and domestic violence.
  • In 2016, 86 percent of the civil legal problems reported by low-income Americans received inadequate or no legal help.
  • Low-income Americans seek legal help for only 20 percent of their civil legal problems.
  • In 2017, it is estimated that low-income individuals will contact LSC-funded legal aid organizations for support with 1.7 million problems. However, they will receive limited or no legal help for more than half (1.1 million of these problems due to inadequate resources).

University of Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh was among the speakers at a launch event for the report. “I may be a football coach,” he said, “but I am an American first and foremost, and all Americans should care about equal access to justice.” He continued, noting that it’s “about fundamental fairness…if you have money, you have access to justice. If you don’t have money, you have less access to our justice system, and that’s not the way it should work.”

To learn more about LSC and its current challenges and opportunities, check out our recent interview with Ronald Flagg on the Law Firm Pro Bono Project’s Podcast, the Pro Bono Happy Hour. The episode is available on Apple Podcasts and YouTube.