200+ Legal Department Leaders Call on Congress to Increase Funding for the Legal Services Corporation

[vc_row row_type=”row” use_row_as_full_screen_section=”no” type=”full_width” text_align=”left” background_animation=”none” css_animation=””][vc_column][vc_column_text]For the fifth year in a row, legal department leaders have come together to support funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), the largest funder of civil legal aid in the United States.

Pro Bono Institute (PBI) and its global in-house project, Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO), along with the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) and the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), recently circulated a letter inviting General Counsel and Chief Legal Officers to sign on in support of increased funding for LSC for Fiscal Year 2022.

The GCs and CLOs of 207 corporations of all sizes, representing a range of industries, and from locations across the country, signed on to the letter, delivered to Congress on May 25, 2021, calling for an increase in funding for LSC. The letter from the business community’s legal leaders also draws the media’s and public’s attention to the chronic underfunding of civil legal aid in the U.S.

LSC is the cornerstone of ensuring access to justice in the U.S., providing resources and financial support to legal aid organizations around the country that serve individuals and communities in need, as well as structure and resources for pro bono volunteers from law firms and legal departments. Yet LSC has been historically underfunded. LSC’s FY2021 appropriation level is $465 million. Had LSC funding simply kept pace with inflation from its peak in FY1980, it would be around $1 billion today.[1]

Support from America’s corporate leaders historically has made a difference in securing funding for LSC when that funding was threatened.

Their continued support is critically important this year, because the COVID-19 pandemic has created an access to justice crisis. Due to the pandemic, client eligibility for civil legal aid services, those whose income is at or near the poverty level, has grown, with the poverty rate projected to be around 13.7 percent in 2021. In July 2020, LSC grantees reported an average 18 percent increase in the number of clients seeking help. The incidence of legal problems has also increased, with more than 85 percent of LSC grantees reporting an increase in requests for assistance in each of the areas of housing, income, and domestic violence. Prior to the pandemic, roughly 40 percent of eligible people seeking help from an LSC grantee were turned away because the organization lacked sufficient resources to assist them; the pandemic has made this problem more dire.

On May 28, LSC requested an appropriation of $1.018 billion for FY 2022.  This request includes funds to enable LSC grantees to address 60% more civil legal problems than they served before the pandemic, and also to respond to the increased demand for civil legal services due to the impact of COIVD-19 on low-income communities. Also on May 28, the White House proposed a $6 trillion budget for 2022, which included $600 million for LSC. LSC called this request the largest ever proposed by an administration but still insufficient to meet the civil legal needs of low-income Americans.

CPBO is proud to support this effort to secure funding for LSC and thanks the GCs and CLOs for demonstrating their commitment to legal aid, access to justice, and pro bono legal services. For more information, please contact CPBO at cpbo@probonoinst.org. Read the full letter here.

[1] In FY1980, funding for LSC was $300 million (Department of State, Justice, and Commerce, the Judiciary and Related Agencies Appropriation Act, 1980. (Public Law 96-68). Inflation was calculated using the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI Inflation Calculator (https://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm).[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]