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Budget Cuts Hobble Legal Services For The Poor

By Ian Millhiser  

"Budget Cuts Hobble Legal Services For The Poor"

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Last year, Congress cut tens of millions of dollars from the national Legal Services Corporation’s budget, which provides legal representation to low income Americans. Those cuts are now being felt:

At a time of rising demand, LSC has been dealing with funding cuts. Federal government funding for LSC dropped 17 percent to $348 million this year, compared with $420 million in 2010. LSC funds 135 legal aid groups across the country and serves about 900,000 clients a year, but it has to turn away about the same number of people seeking help because of a lack of staff.

Less than 20 percent of the legal needs of low-income people are addressed with the help of a private or legal aid lawyer, LSC says. . . .

Pro bono work by large law firms has declined in the past few years amid downsizing because of the economy, according to the July and August issue of ALM’s The American Lawyer magazine. Average pro bono hours per lawyer in large firms dropped to about 54 last year, a 12 percent decrease from a 2009 peak, the magazine reported.

In 2011, President Obama called for increased funding to ensure the most vulnerable Americans are able to fairly assert their legal rights in court. Mitt Romney, of course, supports deep cuts to the program.

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