2022 Year-End Message from LSC Board Chairman John G. Levi
As a new year approaches, I want to express my gratitude for the exemplary efforts you have made this year in the vital work that you do.
From addressing the lingering effects of the pandemic in areas such as housing insecurity and domestic violence, to responding to hurricanes, wildfires and floods, to using technology to stretch your outreach, you have exhibited once again amazing determination and resourcefulness.
The Board thanks you and the 11,000 attorneys, paralegals and staff members at LSC-funded legal aid offices across the country for making America’s promise of equal access to justice a reality for so many of our most vulnerable citizens.
Despite your tremendous efforts, however, new evidence emerged this year of the enormous magnitude of the civil legal aid crisis still confronting low-income Americans.
LSC’s 2022 Justice Gap Report, released in April, presented findings about your lived reality that were striking and grim, revealing that low-income Americans do not receive any or enough legal help for 92% of their substantial civil legal problems.
This is completely unacceptable, and it is not only an injustice for low-income Americans but, as you know all too well, a daunting challenge to the work you do.
The report, in fact, found that LSC grantees do not have the resources to meet the demand in communities they serve, forced to turn away half of the requests they receive. And even when these grantees can provide some assistance, they have the resources to fully resolve only slightly more than half of these problems.
Wholly inadequate funding of LSC has fueled this crisis.
As grateful as we are that the omnibus spending bill passed last week by Congress that increased LSC funding to $560 million, a 14.5% hike, much more is needed to close the justice gap after years of chronic underfunding.
In FY 1994—28 years ago—Congress appropriated $400 million for LSC. By FY 2022, LSC’s appropriation has increased only slightly—to $489 million—not remotely enough to keep up with inflation, much less the increased demand and need for services resulting from recessions and the pandemic that have occurred over the last three decades. Adjusted for inflation, the 1980 appropriation of $300 million would be more than $900 million in 2022 dollars.
That is why the Board voted unanimously to seek more than $1.5 billion from Congress for FY 2024.
We were able to discuss these and other challenges in person in September when LSC hosted executive directors from more than 125 LSC grantees in Washington, D.C. for a three-day conference, the first such gathering in 14 years.
You brought boundless enthusiasm and great insight to the event, learning from one another and sharing strategies for engagement with leaders from the legal profession, business and government. Sessions focused on critical topics such as how to educate legislators on the value of legal aid, how to integrate advocacy into organizations' service models, ways to boost inclusive leadership and more.
The Department of Justice hosted us at a reception where Attorney General Merrick Garland, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta and Office for Access to Justice Director Rachel Rossi spoke eloquently on the value of legal aid to the entire justice system.
The Congressional Access to Legal Aid Caucus also hosted a special reception for us on Capitol Hill where we were privileged to hear stirring remarks from Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-5).
Throughout the year, LSC advanced numerous initiatives and research efforts designed to help you deliver legal services more efficiently and effectively.
We convened our 22nd annual technology conference in January. Held virtually, the Innovations in Technology Conference brought together more than 700 technologists, legal aid advocates, court personnel, pro bono coordinators and other professionals for programming that showcased technology projects and tools that improve access to civil legal services for low-income Americans.
In a few weeks, an in-person, jam-packed 2023 ITC will convene in Phoenix.
This year, the LSC Board continued its outreach efforts by convening Access to Justice Forums in conjunction with our quarterly Board meetings. Following a virtual forum devoted to the digital divide in March, LSC convened in-person events in Washington DC, Chicago and Kansas City.
The Board is especially grateful to Leaders Council member Charlie Besser and his company Intersport for arranging for LSC signage to be displayed at the Legends of Basketball Showcase at the United Center in Chicago a few weeks ago. Our logos were visible to fans in the arena and at home, with two games airing on the CBS Sports Network. He previously advanced our outreach by taking the lead in producing and placing legal aid PSAs with the assistance of VISA and Merck.
LSC’s Rural Justice Task Force held a field hearing in October in Oklahoma City, the third such meeting for this group which first convened in December 2021 to raise awareness of the civil legal needs of rural Americans and to promote solutions to close the justice gap.
Supported by Ascendium Education Group and the Quarles & Brady law firm, the Rural Justice Task Force also partnered with LSC’s Veterans Task Force in November at a remote version of our annual Veterans Day Forum. This year’s event focused on the unique needs and interests of veterans residing in rural communities.
LSC’s ongoing eviction project examining how varying state and local laws affect eviction outcomes issued a research brief in April on the importance of pro bono representation in eviction proceedings.
The Eviction Project, begun at the behest of Congress, will complete its work in the coming year, as will another LSC housing insecurity initiative, the Housing Task Force, supported by the Wachtell Lipton law firm.
In addition to LSC’s annual, game-changing grants—the Technology Initiative Grants and Pro Bono Innovation Fund grants—this year LSC awarded $38 million to grantees in regions impacted by natural disasters.
These grants are supporting the delivery of legal services to low-income Americans in need of assistance due to the consequences of hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, floods and severe storms that occurred in 2020 and 2021.
These and the many other services you provide are vital, as Attorney General Garland observed in his powerful remarks at the Justice Department reception during our Executive Directors Conference.
“The legitimacy of the law depends on equal justice, but equal justice depends on equal access to justice. And equal access, in turn, depends on the thousands of professionals who do the difficult and demanding work of providing legal services to those in need.”
LSC has always been committed to being the best possible partner to you in these efforts. That commitment is taking on increased urgency now as we are on the doorstep of LSC’s 50th anniversary when we will focus even more attention and resources to our shared mission of expanding access to justice to all Americans.
We intend to make this landmark anniversary and the months leading up to it more than an occasion for commemoration but also a call for renewal and determination as we continue to work with you to fulfill the mandate of the Legal Services Corporation Act to “provide equal access to the system of justice” and “provide high quality legal assistance to those who would be otherwise unable to afford adequate legal counsel.”
John G. Levi, Chairman