Welcoming Remarks by Board Chair John G. Levi | House Briefing on Why Is Legal Aid Important to American Business?

Washington, DC | Longworth House Office Building | April 20, 2016
May 2, 2016

Good afternoon and welcome.  I am John Levi, and I am privileged to serve as the 10th Chair of the Board of the Legal Services Corporation.

Thank you for attending this significant briefing on the importance of civil legal aid to American business.

I want to particularly acknowledge and thank Representatives Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts and Susan Brooks of Indiana, co-founders of the House Access to Civil Legal Services Caucus, for helping to make this briefing possible.  Congresswoman Brooks was a former US Attorney in Indiana and Congressman Kennedy was a former District Attorney in Massachusetts.

I especially want to thank the distinguished members of our panel, corporate counsel from some of our nation’s leading companies who have traveled from across the country to join us, and who will be introduced shortly by the panel’s moderator, LSC’s outstanding president, Jim Sandman. 

Today, we will hear an informed discussion of why civil legal aid matters to business, but by way of introduction, I would like to discuss the converse — why business matters to civil legal aid.

And I’m not talking about some of the more obvious reasons, financial support and pro bono commitments, as important as they are.

American business can play an equally crucial role for civil legal aid by helping us spread our message about the crisis in the civil justice system to the rest of society.

You see, unfortunately, that message is not being as well heard or understood as it needs to be.

The legal aid community does a wonderful job of talking to itself.

Our stakeholders convene conferences where people in the know discuss equal access issues with other people in the know, in front of an audience of people also in the know.

This lack of knowledge became painfully apparent to me as I visited with leaders of some of the largest law firms in the country as part of our modest effort to raise private funds for special projects that complement those funded by our Congressional appropriation.

Many had never heard of LSC, and few fully appreciated the gravity of the challenges confronting civil legal aid. 

If leaders of the legal community are unaware of this major crisis, how can we expect people outside the profession to know or care!

We must quickly expand and greatly so those who understand and speak about the threat this crisis poses for our country’s confidence in the orderly functioning of the civil justice system.

Having paid little attention — for generations — to the gravity of the issues posed by a lack of access to justice, those of us who now know cannot just kick the can down the road and thereby put our democracy at risk.

With the help of people such as those on today’s panel, we can better expand that understanding.

Access to justice is a core American value, and remaining true to that value requires the engagement of all of society, and that engagement can be won only when messengers beyond the legal community take up the cause.

And that brings us to the panel which, as I said, is being moderated by Jim Sandman, a former managing partner of Arnold & Porter who served as general counsel for the District of Columbia Public Schools before joining LSC in 2011.

It is my pleasure to introduce LSC’s outstanding President Jim Sandman.