It has been more than twenty years since the American Bar Association published its pioneering study of the legal needs of low-income Americans. The bottom lines of this study are often cited: first, that each year, half of low-income people faced legal needs, defined as “situations, events, or difficulties any member of the household faced . . . . [that] raised legal issues.” Second, 70% of the legal needs of lowincome people went unmet.
Twenty years later, it appears that nothing has changed, except for the worse. For one thing, the budget of the Legal Services Corporation (“LSC”) is 40% smaller today—in constant dollars—than it was when the Legal Needs Study appeared. In fact, the LSC’s 2015 budget was 10% lower than it was just four years earlier. Today there are about 4,300 LSC-funded lawyers—about the same as in 1994, the year of the ABA’s legal needs survey. This actually improved over the intervening years, when the number of LSC-funded lawyers dropped significantly. But the number of people eligible for legal aid has grown by 11 million since 1994 to a rather staggering 61 million people today, almost a fifth of the U.S. population.
Optimism, Skepticism, and Access to Justice,
Tex. A&M L. Rev.
Available at: https://scholarship.law.tamu.edu/lawreview/vol3/iss3/3