2017 Justice Gap Report
The Justice Gap: Measuring the Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-income Americans report explores the “justice gap,” the difference between the civil legal needs of low-income Americans and the resources available to meet those needs in 2017.
The phrase “with liberty and justice for all” in the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance represents the idea that justice should be accessible to everyone. In criminal cases, legal assistance is a right. However, there is no right to counsel in civil matters, and most low-income Americans are forced to go it alone without legal representation.
This report shows:
- In the past year, 86% of the civil legal problems reported by low-income Americans received inadequate or no legal help.
- 71% of low-income households experienced at least one civil legal problem in the last year, including problems with health care, housing conditions, disability access, veterans’ benefits, and domestic violence.
- In 2017, low-income Americans will approach LSC-funded legal aid organizations for support with an estimated 1.7 million problems. They will receive only limited or no legal help for more than half of these problems due to a lack of resources.
The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) contracted with NORC at the University of Chicago to help measure the justice gap among low-income Americans in 2017. LSC defines the justice gap as the difference between the civil legal needs of low-income Americans and the resources available to meet those needs. NORC conducted a survey of approximately 2,000 adults living in households at or below 125% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) using its nationally representative, probability-based AmeriSpeak® Panel. This report presents findings based on this survey and additional data LSC collected from the legal aid organizations it funds.
The 2017 Justice Gap Report
The phrase “with liberty and justice for all” in the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance represents the idea that everyone should have access to justice, not just those who can afford legal representation. In criminal cases, legal assistance is a right. Americans accused of a crime are appointed legal counsel if they cannot afford it. As a general matter, however, there is no right to counsel in civil matters. As a result, many low-income Americans “go it alone” without legal representation in disputes where they risk losing their job, their livelihood, their home, or their children, or seek a restraining order against an abuser.
This “justice gap” – the difference between the civil legal needs of low-income Americans and the resources available to meet those needs – has stretched into a gulf. State courts across the country are overwhelmed with unrepresented litigants. In 2015, for example, an estimated 1.8 million people appeared in the New York State courts without a lawyer. And we know that 98% of tenants in eviction cases and 95% of parents in child support cases were unrepresented in these courts in 2013. Comparable numbers can be found in courts across the United States.
This study explores the extent of the justice gap in 2017, describing the volume of civil legal needs faced by low-income Americans, assessing the extent to which they seek and receive help, and measuring the size of the gap between their civil legal needs and the resources available to address these needs.