What is Legal Aid?

LSC-funded programs help people who live in households with annual incomes at or below 125% of the federal poverty guidelines – in 2021, that is $16,100 for an individual, $33,125 for a family of four.  Clients come from every ethnic and age group and live in rural, suburban, and urban areas. They are the working poor, veterans, homeowners and renters, families with children, farmers, people with disabilities, and the elderly. Women - many of whom are struggling to keep their children safe and their families together - comprise 70% of clients.

Section Dropdown

The Unmet Need for Legal Aid

Nearly a million poor people who seek help for civil legal problems are turned away because of the lack of adequate resources. The justice gap represents the difference between the level of civil legal assistance available and the level that is necessary to meet the legal needs of low-income individuals and families. According to LSC's 2022 report The Justice Gap: The Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-Income Americans, of the estimated 1.9 million civil legal problems for which low-income Americans seek LSC-funded legal aid, 1.1-1.3 million (63%-70%) did not receive any or enough legal assistance. Among all civil legal problems by low-income Americans, we estimate that 92% do not get any or enough legal assistance. 

State studies consistently show a higher percentage (80%) of the civil legal needs of the eligible population are not being met. A recent study by the Boston Bar Association found that in Massachusetts civil legal aid programs turn away 64% of eligible cases. Nearly 33,000 low-income residents in Massachusetts were denied the aid of a lawyer in life-essential matters involving eviction; foreclosure; and family law such as cases involving child abuse and domestic violence. People seeking assistance with family law cases were turned away 80% of the time.

New York’s recent finding

New York’s recent findings confirm national data that less than 20% of all civil legal needs of low-income families and individuals are met. In 2013 more than 1.8 million litigants were not represented by counsel in civil proceedings in New York’s state courts.

In New York City:

  • 91% of petitioners and 92% of respondents do not have lawyers in child support matters in family court.
  • 99% of tenants are unrepresented in eviction proceedings.

In New York State:

  • 87% of petitioners and 86% of respondents do not have lawyers in child support matters in family court.
  • 91% of tenants are unrepresented in eviction proceedings.

Nationally, LSC grantees served nearly 1.9 million low-income persons in 2014. Millions more requested assistance but did not receive it because of the lack of adequate resources.

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