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April 22, 2010

Rare Alliance of State and Territorial Bar Associations Backs Legal Services Corporation

Largest Specialty Bars Add Their Support During ABA Day on Capitol Hill

Speaking with one voice, scores of state and territorial bar association presidents signed on to a letter to Congress calling for improved support of Legal Services Corporation. The letter, supported by the National Conference of Bar Presidents, includes the signatures of 61 state bar presidents, as well as bar presidents from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Presidents of the National Bar Association, Hispanic National Bar Association, National Asian Pacific Bar Association and National Native _ also joined in signing the letter.

“Without community legal aid providers, we have no hope of offering justice to struggling Americans,” stated _ President Carolyn B. Lamm. “That’s why presidents of all state and territorial bar associations and leaders of four major U.S. bars of color have joined the ABA to press for proper funding and reauthorization of Legal Services Corporation.”

At the beginning of the recession in 2008, 54 million Americans qualified for federally funded legal assistance. The letter asks Congress to increase LSC funding by at least $15 million, to a minimum of $435 million, to cover the growing gap in aid confirmed in reports such as the 2009 LSC Justice Gap study. That study affirmed that one out of every two people who qualified for and sought help from legal services providers were turned away due to lack of funding. Even more troubling is that, with regard to foreclosure matters, two clients must be turned away for every one served.

The letter also makes urges Congress to engage in bipartisan discussions to reauthorize LSC this year. The LSC Act was last authorized in 1981.

“Much has changed in 30 years and LSC needs Congress to enable it to be current with today’s needs,” said Lamm. “We call on Congress to produce a final bill that will not only improve the efficiency and the delivery of legal services to low-income people, but will also strengthen governance and accountability.“

This is the third year in a row the bars have united behind such a letter, issued in conjunction with ABA Day in Washington. ABA Day comprises a series of Capitol Hill events April 20–22 designed to involve the American legal community in improving access to justice.  Hundreds of leaders from bar associations coast-to-coast convene to meet with their members of Congress on issues of concern to the justice system.