Monthly Archives: August 2011

Addressing the justice gap

A New York Times editorial this week called for expanding civil legal services to the poor:

“In civil proceedings like divorces, child support cases, home foreclosures, bankruptcies and landlord-tenant disputes, the number of people representing themselves in court has soared since the economy soured. Experts estimate that four-fifths of low-income people have no access to a lawyer when they need one. Research shows that litigants representing themselves often fare less well than those with lawyers. This ‘justice gap’ falls heavily on the poor, particularly in overburdened state courts.

“There is plenty the government, the legal profession and others can do to improve this shameful state of affairs. With the economic downturn, only around two-thirds of law school graduates in 2010 got jobs for which a law degree is required, the lowest rate since 1996. That leaves the other third — close to 15,000 lawyers — who, with financial support from government and the legal profession, could be using their legal expertise to help some of those who need representation.

“While the Constitution requires that defendants in criminal cases be provided a lawyer, there is no such guarantee in civil cases. The Legal Services Corporation, created by Congress, gives out federal grants that provide the bulk of support for legal aid to the poor. Over the decades, that budget has shrunk — it was $404 million in 2011, about one-third less than it was 15 years ago, adjusted for inflation. The House Appropriations Committee has proposed reducing that to $300 million for 2012. The cut would be devastating; the budget should, instead, be increased. ”

To read the entire editorial, click here.

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Young lawyers sticking to their goals

The Washington Post profiled three recent law school graduates who talked about positioning themselves to compete for the limited number of legal jobs–including Leila Leigh, a family law attorney in Maryland Legal Aid’s Metropolitan Maryland office (Riverdale).

“A lot of law students think, ‘I have to be in law review, I have to be in moot court.’ I just stayed focused on what I wanted to do and selected internships and opportunities that would put me in a position to do what I wanted to do when I was done,” said Leigh, who interned at Break the Cycle (a nonprofit working to combat teen dating violence), Legal Momentum’s Immigrant Women Program (which works with immigrant women who are survivors of domestic violence) and Women Empowered Against Violence.

To read the article, click here.

5 signs of a foreclosure rescue scam

Maryland Legal Aid’s Vicki King Taitano, director of the Foreclosure Legal Assistance Project, was interviewed by Black Enterprise for an article about foreclosure rescue scams.

“I think people need lawyers. And I hope attorneys will volunteer or take more cases and represent people in mediations and foreclosures because when people are represented I think they do much better,” Taitano said.

To read the entire article, click here.

Legal Aid of North Carolina to eliminate 30 staff positions, close 3 rural offices

“Facing budget cuts of more than $2 million, Legal Aid of North Carolina plans to eliminate about 30 positions and close its offices in Smithfield, Boone and Henderson by the end of September,” the News Observer reports. “Those three offices have served about 2,000 households a year in Johnston, Harnett, Sampson, Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell, Watauga, Wilkes, Vance and Yancey counties. The nonprofit looked at furloughs and salary cuts, but the reduction in funding was too great, said George Hausen, Legal Aid of North Carolina’s executive director.  Legal Aid’s total budget had been about $20 million a year before the cuts. By closing rural offices, Legal Aid hopes to maximize the number of poor people it serves at its current funding level. . . . Legal Aid of North Carolina has about 150 attorneys on staff who assist more than 40,000 low-income and moderate-income households with various legal matters each year. In recent years, the organization has been heavily involved in providing mortgage assistance to people facing foreclosure. Those programs have been spared from cuts, Hausen said. Legal Aid gets its funding from a range of sources, but its biggest sources are the state and federal governments, which have been cutting spending in a range of areas. Some of Legal Aid’s funding is also tied to commercial real estate transactions, which are down significantly in recent years. The cuts come at a time when there is increased demand for Legal Aid’s services as a result of the economic downturn. ‘Even under the best funding that we had, we’re still turning away over half the clients who apply to us with good cases,’ Hausen said. ‘We have a burgeoning poverty population here in North Carolina, and we’re cutting these services at a very critical time.’ Legal Aid of North Carolina faces the prospect of further cuts later this year. A proposal in the U.S. House of Representatives would cut the nonprofit organization’s funding by an additional 26 percent, Hausen said.” To read the article, click here.

Maryland Legal Aid hosts community birthday party

Maryland Legal Aid is hosting a community birthday party on Sept. 10 to celebrate 100 years of providing free civil legal services to low-income individuals, families, and communities in Maryland.

The party will offer something for everyone, including live music, children’s activities, craft and food vendors, health testing, and information about community resources.

The festivities will be held, rain or shine, on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the War Memorial Plaza, Gay and Lexington streets, in downtown Baltimore in front of City Hall.  The event is free and open to the public.

Maryland’s largest non-profit law firm, with 13 offices across the state,  Legal Aid was founded in 1911 and has become one of the nation’s premier legal services organizations.  In 2010,  Legal Aid served more than 61,000 clients statewide in a wide range of areas including family, public benefits, health care, housing, consumer, education, elder, and employment law.

For more information about  Legal Aid or the community birthday party, call 410-951-7649, or visit Maryland Legal Aid’s website at www.mdlab.org.