“A trusting widow, swindled by a smooth-talking loan shark, suddenly faces eviction from the home she’s owned for decades. An injured veteran caught in bureaucratic red tape is denied services he needs and has earned. A fearful mother stays in an abusive relationship because the alternatives seem worse. These disturbing situations are all-too common in our great country. Without appropriate legal expertise, many of them have unjust endings.” – John G. Levin, Chairman of Legal Services Corporation Board of Directors.
The “justice gap” – the disparity between the need for and availability of civil legal services – is widening. Eighty percent of low-income people have trouble obtaining legal representation in court to protect their property, family, and livelihood when dealing with evictions, foreclosures, unpaid wages, domestic violence, and public benefits. And it affects everyone, not just those with unmet legal needs. The country’s foreclosure crisis exemplifies how lack of access to legal representation can lead to financial losses that are felt across the economy.
Legal aid is important.
- Solving legal problems stabilizes families, gets low-income people back on their feet, and changes the arc of their lives.
Legal aid is a good investment.
- Solving legal problems up front avoids serious and costly consequences for the individuals and families involved and for society generally.
Funding cuts are compromising the ability to meet even the most critical legal needs of low-income Coloradans.
- Our statewide legal aid program, Colorado Legal Services (CLS), has lost nearly $2.8 million in revenue over the last three years as a result of public funding cuts and smaller COLTAF grants.
- There are now only 47 legal aid lawyers statewide, with an eligible client population of 880,000.
- By way of comparison, there are 410 public defenders in the state to serve indigent Coloradans.
Without CLS, those who can’t afford counsel have nowhere else to turn.
- CLS is the place of last resort for low income families, the disabled, and seniors who are facing serious civil legal problems.
- Even the bar-sponsored pro bono programs rely on CLS for coordination and support.
There is no substitute for a strong statewide legal aid program.
- New initiatives are underway to encourage more pro bono representation and to provide more support for the increasing number of self-represented litigants, but neither can replace an adequately-funded, staffed legal aid program, with lawyers who are poverty law experts and available on demand when low-income families are in crisis.