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Legal Aid Post-Recession

August 22, 2012

The so-called Great Recession has left a great many people unable to afford legal representation, while generating increased bankruptcies, debt collection cases, and foreclosures.

The number of Americans with incomes at or below 125% of the federal poverty level is expected to climb to a high of 66 million in 2012.

A family of four earning that amount (the income limit required to qualify for legal aid) makes only about $28,800 a year.

Meanwhile, federal funding for Legal Services Corp. has been reduced by 17 percent to $348 million, as compared with $420 million in 2010. Legal Services Corp. — which funds 135 legal aid groups across the country, serving about 900,000 clients a year — will turn away approximately as many potential clients by reason of staffing shortages.

Large firms, which typically require pro bono work from their associates, have downsized reducing the hours available to impoverished clients.

The result of all this is a deluge of pro bono cases backing up court calendars. Laura Bellows, President of the American Bar Association, has said, “The need is extraordinary. You not only have the poverty level community, but also the middle class community.”

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