Civil Legal Aid Research | OPA | Department of Justice


June 3, 2015 , Courtesy of Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch 

On May 20 , I was pleased to participate in the Justice Department’s Civil Legal Aid Research Workshop,

sponsored by the National Institute of Justice, Access to Justice, and the National Science Foundation. At

this gathering, passionate advocates and dedicated legal professionals worked to identify the data, methods,

and research that can inform our efforts to help low income Americans acquire the legal aid they need and 

deserve. Drawn from a range of agencies and backgrounds—including both national and international experts,

and federal participants from 25 offices—contributors discussed best practices, successful efforts, and new

ideas to benefit the men, women, and children we strive to serve.

As someone who has spent my professional career practicing law—and having served on the board of

advisors of groups like the Legal Aid Society of New York and the Federal Defenders Service of New York—I

am acutely aware of the challenges faced by those who are too often left out and left behind in their efforts to

achieve meaningful justice. Today, more than 20 percent of Americans are eligible for legal aid, yet due to

insufficient resources, legal aid professionals are forced to turn away half of those who seek their assistance

—from families in danger of being evicted from their homes to individuals experiencing domestic violence;

from survivors of human trafficking who need access to legal services to victims of consumer fraud faced with

foreclosures and illegal debt collection.

The Department of Justice is working to fill this significant need. Through the Access to Justice Initiative,

we’re building partnerships across the country to expand legal aid and rethinking policies that reduce its

impact. Thanks to the Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable, which ATJ helped launch in 2012, more than two

dozen federal grant programs—involving health care, citizenship, post incarceration reentry, housing for 

veterans, and other federal priorities—have now been clarified to allow funding for legal services to further

program goals. And under the Department’s recently expanded  Pro Bono Program, any DOJ employee can 

now use up to 30 hours of administrative leave for pro bono work that takes place during work hours, such as

court appearances and mediations.

With the work of the Civil Legal Aid Research Workshop, we are taking another important step toward

identifying strategies that will help us improve the ways we serve those who look to us for help. Among its

important contributions, the workshop highlighted new research that shows how legal aid interventions can

significantly improve lives and respond to critical civil justice needs. It put a spotlight on innovative crossdisciplinary

tactics, such as combining medical and legal services under one roof. It also furthered the  

Department’s commitment to an evidence based approach that will produce better outcomes for individuals in 

need of assistance.

The work of ensuring meaningful access to justice for every American is more than just a professional

responsibility—it is a moral obligation and a national charge. It is at the very core of what this country stands

for. Whether they are rich or poor, young or old, famous or unknown, every person in this country deserves

equality under the law. Every person in this country deserves fair treatment from the civil justice system.

And every person in this country deserves our best efforts in the service of that cause. In the days ahead—

through workshops like this one, and additional efforts across the country—the Department will continue to

fulfill that promise, continue to fight for those values, and continue to strive for justice.

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