Law Day 2016 | Statement of John G. Levi, Chair, Board of Directors, Legal Services Corporation

April 29, 2016

WASHINGTON – Every year on May 1, our nation observes Law Day, established in 1958 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as "a day of national dedication to the principle of government under law." This year’s theme, “Miranda: More than Words,” recognizes the 50th anniversary of what is one of the best-known U.S. Supreme Court cases, Miranda v. Arizona.

Many Americans can recite the procedural safeguards spelled out in that decision after hearing “Miranda warnings” given on countless television police shows over the years. But many of those same Americans do not realize that the right to counsel applies only to criminal cases. In civil cases — domestic abuse, child custody, wrongful evictions, veterans’ rights disputes and other matters that can go to the heart of their well-being and security — they are on their own. For low-income Americans, this can be a significant barrier to access to justice.

Recognizing this problem in the accessibility of the civil justice system, Congress created in 1974 the Legal Services Corporation to help “provide equal access to the system of justice in our nation” and “to provide high quality legal assistance to those who would be otherwise unable to afford adequate legal counsel.”

For more than 40 years, LSC and its grantees have pursued this mission with commitment and resourcefulness. These 134 LSC-funded organizations in every state and congressional district now face demand far higher than when LSC was formed, but they are funded in inflation-adjusted dollars at far lower levels. Many LSC grantees are now forced to turn away at least 50 percent of those seeking help because of inadequate resources, and in some places, considerably more.  

On the occasion of Law Day 2016, we ask our fellow countrymen to help address this significant “justice gap” -- the disparity between the need for and availability of civil legal services--to ensure that our civil justice system is more accessible to all Americans. 

Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is an independent nonprofit established by Congress in 1974 to provide financial support for civil legal aid to low-income Americans. The Corporation currently provides funding to 132 independent nonprofit legal aid programs in every state, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.